La Liga Preview: Real Madrid have no option other than to win
Real would kick-off seven points clear off the top of the table, now that Barcelona have won their match against Atletico Madrid on Jan 30.
Real Madrid will kick off their home game against Espanyol here on Sunday knowing that they have little option other than to win if they want to keep their dream of the La Liga title alive.
Espanyol have traditionally been easy prey at the Santiago Bernabeu with the Barcelona-based club tending to put up much less resistance to Real Madrid than against their city neighbours, Barcelona and it will be interesting to see if they try (and are allowed to get away with) the same physical tactics that recently earned them a controversial 0-0 draw at home to Barcelona.
The visitors' league position just four points above the relegation zone implies they are in no situation to give away points without a fight and pride will want them to stop a repeat of the 6-0 drubbing at home to Real earlier this season.
That game saw Cristiano Ronaldo score five goals but his tally on 16 goals this season is well below last year when he ended up with 48 goals while it has also been noted that he has failed to score in games against any of Spain's top sides this season.
With Gareth Bale still recovering from his hamstring injury, Ronaldo will have a key role once again in the Madrid attack alongside Karim Benzem, while Isco will look to continue his run of form under Zinedine Zidane.
James Rodriguez will also start on Sunday while others such as Lucas Vazquez and Casimiro, who enjoyed game time under Rafael Benitez, will have to be content with a place on the bench at best.
One advantage for Real Madrid is that Espanyol can't pick with Marcos Asensio or striker Burgui -- both are on loan from Real and the terms of their contracts prevent them turning out on Sunday.