Just as Atlético Madrid did against Barcelona on Saturday, Espanyol toyed with Real Madrid like a cat with a mouse yesterday. Los Pericos dictated the game without possession of the ball, had complete control of the situation, and waited to pounce on a side who were toothless until the final stages, when Karim Benzema produced a sensational reaction that wasn’t enough. Once again, Madrid’s defending was poor, particularly on the left in the first half, as Espanyol went at them down that flank time and time again. It’s now a constant feature of this Madrid team that they give up chances very easily. Far too easily to be able to rely on the goalkeeper, even one as good as Thibaut Courtois, to get them out of jail. The Belgian can’t make up for all the defensive ricks that are happening week in, week out.
Real Madrid can't claim this was a freak result
This is a very different defeat to the one against Sheriff, which was embarrassing but, to an extent, could be viewed as an accident. This time, Madrid simply played badly. They lined up in a 4-4-2 with Toni Kroos in Casemiro’s position, and it was clear the German isn’t fully fit. Madrid attacked poorly and defended poorly. After the break, they switched to a 4-3-3, with Rodrygo Goes on for Eduardo Camavinga. They looked better going forward, but their leakiness at the back quickly allowed Espanyol to make it 2-0. Carlo Ancelotti then went all out, bringing on Casemiro and Luka Jovic (and later Eden Hazard) and going with just two midfielders, in a manner reminiscent of the 1960s, when teams often played in a 4-2-4. An invitation for an end-to-end affair which, thanks to Benzema, almost did the trick.
Benzema nearly stages solo Real rescue
Because after Real Madrid went two down, Benzema was just extraordinary. He burst into life, grabbing his team by the scruff of the neck and scoring a fine goal. As if possessed by a seething rage that by no means affected his abilities, he also set up one and scored another, but both were ruled out for offside. It was a display of pride and brilliance from a top player in no mood to accept defeat. He single-handedly sowed doubt in Espanyol, who after missing a great chance for a third, ended up with their backs to the wall, flirting with conceding an equaliser. As Vicente Moreno said post-match, you can’t hope to beat Madrid without the going getting tough at some point. This time, it was Benzema who made sure of that. He was the only thing about Madrid that lived up to what you’d expect from Los Blancos.