Real Madrid cancelled their pre-match press conference amid growing unrest at the club ahead of their latest attempt to prevent Barcelona from sealing the Liga title.
Los Blancos will be in Barcelona on Saturday and will need to beat Espanyol to keep the title race, at least in theory, alive for another day. Yet the buildup has again been dominated, as much of the season has, by reports of rifts between certain players and manager Jose Mourinho.
The outspoken Portuguese looks all-but certain to leave come the end of the season, with a return to Chelsea heavily mooted, but he is not going quietly. After Pepe appeared to criticize the decision to keep captain Iker Casillas on the bench, Mourinho responded with some less than glowing comments about both players.
Subsequently not even assistant coach Aitor Karanka was made available to talk to the media ahead of the trip to face Espanyol.
But Sergio Ramos, who was also dropped by Mourinho amid reports of a rift between the pair earlier in the campaign, has called for the club to pull together for the remaining matches of the season, which includes a Copa del Rey final against Atletico Madrid next Friday.
"It's time to put a stop to all the controversy, whether about the manager, Iker or Pepe,” he told Spanish TV station La Sexta. “Now we need to find our team spirit, get focused and concentrate on the final. That's all that matters. We need to leave our egos aside and think about winning the final. Then we'll see."
Ramos will be missing for Saturday’s encounter but hopes to be fit to face Atletico. Alvaro Arbeloa has returned to training but Marcelo and Mesut Ozil look set to be out for the weekend.
Any real expectations of retaining their La Liga title have long since disappeared for Madrid, yet they have won 12 out of their last 13 matches in the league including a 6-2 demolition of Malaga on Wednesday.
Having lost their last two matches, Espanyol’s hopes of securing a place in the Europa League have all but vanished. Yet, forward Sergio Garcia has said that they won’t be laying down to delay their local rivals from wrapping up the title.
“The atmosphere at Madrid at the moment is not the best,'' he said, according to Marca.
“That could improve before they face us but they should not come here expecting a walk.''
Espanyol will be missing Cristian Alvarez, Felipe Mattioni and Simao for the match.
D: Lopez, Colotto, Moreno, Capdevilla
M: Forlin, Baena
Stuani, Verdu, Wakaso
Real Madrid (probable)
D: Nacho, Albiol, Carvalho, Fabinho
M: Essien, Modric
Callejon, Kaka, Di Maria
Prediction: Mourinho is likely to rest a host of players with the Copa del Rey final firmly in mind. However, even when playing second-strong lineups in recent weeks Madrid have still had too much for the opposition and that could well prove the case again on Saturday.
Espanyol 1-3 Real Madrid
Where to watch: The La Liga clash will kick-off at 4 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream available on beIN Sport Play.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.