Despite a 5-0 thumping of Real Betis in Week 2, Real Madrid may still be in need of some inspired play when they meet Espanyol at Cornella-El Prat Stadium on Saturday. New manager Rafael Benitez has not received much production from star forward Cristiano Ronaldo after an uncharacteristically quiet effort in his first two matches of the season.
But in Ronaldo's last appearance against Espanyol, he scored a hat trick and even added an assist in a road match. Benitez told reporters after training this week that Ronaldo should get back on track.
"The player who shoots at goal more than any other player in the league is Cristiano Ronaldo, and what with his quality, and all the work he puts in, we're sure he is going to score lots of goals again this season," Benitez said.
The 30-year-old, who scored 61 goals in all competitions last season, will have some extra pressure now that James Rodriguez is sidelined for the next month with a thigh injury. Madrid must also deal with right-back Danilo’s absence for four weeks due to a foot injury he sustained with Brazil.
Isco is expected to fill in for Rodriguez, while Dani Carvajal is likely to take over for Danilo.
Espanyol manager Sergio Gonzalez will look for a strong effort after a 3-1 loss to Villarreal followed a 1-0 win over Getafe. This is Sergio's second year in charge, and he is coming off a season where Espanyol improved from a 14th-place finish in 2013-2014 to a 10th-place finish in 2014-2015. There is hope around city of Barcelona that the club may still improve after several years of mediocrity, and despite the loss of several key players such as top scorer Sergio Garcia, Uruguay forward Christian Stuani, and Mexico defender Hector Moreno.
Los Periquitos continue to be led by captain Javi Lopez, who has been a mainstay with the club since 2009. Ecuador star Felipe Caicedo remains Espanyol's top goal-scoring option.
Espanyol has been dominated by Real Madrid over the years. In their last four meetings, Real Madrid won all four matches, outscoring Espanyol by a total of 4-1 in 2013-2014, and 7-1 in 2014-2015. The last time Real Madrid failed to defeat Espanyol was in Nov. 2013, after a 1-1 result. Espanyol's last victory over Real Madrid was in 2007.
Prediction: Expect Ronaldo to be aggressive in the opening minutes despite a heavy defensive effort by Espanyol. Los Blancos should ultimately be too much for the home side, and Keylor Navas should record a shutout against a frustrated Espanyol attack.
Predicted Score: Real Madrid over Espanyol, 3-0
Kickoff Time: 10 a.m. ET
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