BY JEFREY CANOVA, SPORTS STAFFER
On Matchday 8 of La Liga, Real Madrid faced RCD Espanyol at the Estadi Cornellà-El Pra. For the third consecutive game, Real Madrid was winless, losing 2-1 against Espanyol in worrying style. Los Merengues felt the pressure coming into the match from heightened expectations after their 2-1 defeat to Sheriff last Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League. In their loss, Real Madrid faced continuing issues in defense while encountering new worries in player fatigue, injuries, and lack of effort throughout the 90 minutes.
RCD Espanyol, the Catalan side currently sitting at 13th in the table, has had a rough patch in their return to La Liga, only having six points and one win. Real Madrid, as the usual favorites, showed otherwise after a poor start in the first half. Madrid’s early missed chances and product in the final third led to Espanyol taking the lead in the 17th minute. After a brilliant run from Embarada down the right-hand flank, he crossed the ball into former Real Madrid striker Raúl de Thomas, who finished with absolute ease and power through the right post of the net.
The second half was a nightmare for Real Madrid. This season, Los Merengues have been accustomed to producing wonders in the second half, making intelligent changes in their play rhythm, tactics, effort, and finishing abilities. Against RCD Espanyol, Madrid showed a monotonous style of play as they lacked the cutting edge in creating clear-cut goal-scoring chances. As rhythm finally appeared for Real Madrid during the middle of the second half, a defensive error by center back Nacho Fernández and midfielder Luka Modrić cost Real Madrid the match after a tidy finish by Aleix Vidal in the 60th minute of the game. Real Madrid was lucky during the game after Sergi Darder and Nicolas Melamed missed open chances that should have embarrassed Real Madrid. Madrid’s defense was not on the spot due to the defensive flexibility and individual concentration, costing them the goals and chances conceded.
All hope seemed to be lost for Real Madrid until in-form hero Karim Benzema netted an elite goal after dribbling with ease past four Espanyol defenders and finessing his shot to the right-hand corner in the 71st minute of the match. Benzema is currently the league’s leading goal scorer and assister, with nine goals and seven assists. For Los Merengues, their fight to tie the game continued as they managed to pull off offside goals from Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard and goal-scoring threats from Luka Jovic. In the end, Madrid’s late efforts were not enough to bring the game level, leaving Real Madrid with their first loss in the league and an end to their 25-game unbeaten La Liga run.
Concerns are drawing on Carlo Ancelotti’s men based on the continuing worries in defense and the recent fatigue in the veteran starters. Opposite to his statement after the loss against FC Sheriff, Carlo Ancellotti shared these similar concerning views:
“We played badly today. We started the game with a plan for both defense and attack, which was very well set out, but we weren’t able to keep calm and stick to it for long enough. I don’t think our positioning on the pitch was good, either with and without the ball, and I have to be honest, I do think it’s the worst game since I came back to the club as coach.”
Respectfully, Real Madrid defender Nacho Fernández also voiced his opinion after his disappointing performance, elaborating on the team’s need to improve on their defense:
“It was a bad week. We have to keep working and make some adjustments, especially on defense. We have a squad that can perform much better than it did in the last three matches.”
During the much-needed international break, Carlo Ancellotti’s squad will need to adjust their defensive issues as they face FC Shakhtar Donetsk on Matchday 3 of the UEFA Champions League after the recent postponement of their league match against Athletic Bilbao. Last season, Real Madrid was incapable of defeating Shakhtar in their group stage thanks to their brilliant attack and coaching. It is a must-win game for Los Merengues as a loss can see themselves go through challenges to qualify for the next round.
Fortunately for Real Madrid, the international break can heavily influence the fitness and health of current players. With Toni Kroos’s 62 minutes of action against RCD Espanyol, his return to complete fitness may arrive after the international break. Excitingly for Carlo Ancelotti and Madridistas, the sudden return of fullbacks Ferland Mendy and Dani Carvajal after the international break can significantly boost Madrid’s current defensive unit and chances of winning their next few games. Rest and confidence should be Madrid’s everyday tasks heading into this much-needed break.