Real Madrid will be bidding to make it three straight wins at the start of the 2022-23 La Liga campaign when they head to RCDE Stadium on Sunday evening to take on Espanyol.
Los Blancos have beaten Almeria and Celta Vigo in their first two games of the season, while Espanyol have picked up only a point from their two fixtures with Celta and Rayo Vallecano.
Espanyol were incredibly relegated from Spain’s top flight in 2019-20, but they returned to the top level at the first time of asking by winning the Segunda Division, and the Catalan outfit finished 14th in La Liga last term.
The White and Blues were only four points outside of the relegation zone in 2021-22, though, and there is no question that the supporters will be demanding an improvement this term.
Now under the management of former Osasuna and Granada head coach Diego Martinez, Espanyol started their La Liga season with a 2-2 draw at Celta, but they could not build on the welcome point away from home, suffering a 2-0 home defeat to Rayo Vallecano last time out.
Espanyol have a tough run of matches to come, facing Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, Real Sociedad and Valencia in their next five, and it will be interesting to see where they are in the table heading into the September international break.
The four-time Copa del Rey winners beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the corresponding match last term, but they suffered a 4-0 defeat when they travelled to Bernabeu in April.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, enjoyed an excellent 2021-22 campaign, winning La Liga, the Champions League and the Spanish Super Cup, and the challenge is for them to back it up this season.
Carlo Ancelotti‘s side were given a tough examination by newly-promoted Almeria on the opening weekend of the new La Liga campaign but managed to run out 2-1 winners.
The reigning champions were excellent at Celta last weekend, meanwhile, recording a 4-1 victory, with Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde on the scoresheet, and the two wins have left them in second position in the table behind Villarreal.
Real Madrid will be aware of the challenge facing them this term in the shape of Barcelona, who have had a spectacular summer transfer window, but Ancelotti’s team are not believed to be planning anything dramatic late in the market despite allowing Casemiro to move to Manchester United.
Los Blancos will take on Espanyol and Real Betis in their next two league matches before the start of their Champions League campaign, with the holders drawn in Group F alongside RB Leipzig, Celtic and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Espanyol are sweating on the fitness of three players ahead of this match, with Pol Lozano, Raul de Tomas and Adria Pedrosa all doubts for the home side this weekend.
The Catalan outfit will also definitely be without the services of Sergi Gomez, who was shown a red card in his side’s 2-0 home defeat to Rayo last time out.
Gomez’s absence will open the door for Fernando Calero to come into the back four, but there are not expected to be any changes elsewhere, with Ruben Sanchez again likely to join Joselu and Nico Melamed in the final third.
As for Real Madrid, Toni Kroos and Rodrygo were unavailable against Celta last time out due to illness and injury respectively, but the pair should be back for this match.
Nacho is a slight doubt after missing a training session earlier this week with a muscular problem, although the defender has a chance of making the bench.
Aurelien Tchouameni should continue in the middle, with Kroos likely to replace Eduardo Camavinga, while Valverde and Vinicius are again set to join Benzema in the final third of the field.
Antonio Rudiger faces a battle to break into the starting XI in the league this season, and the summer arrival from Chelsea is likely to be on the bench once again.
Espanyol possible starting lineup:
Lecomte; Gil, Calero, Cabrera, Olivan; Darder, Exposito, Souza; R Sanchez, Joselu, Melamed
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Kroos, Tchouameni, Modric; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius