Cristiano Ronaldo rested as Espanyol halt Real Madrid's revival with another late winner
Gareth Bale fails to make an impression in Portuguese's absence while Quique Sanchez Flores’ side have now beaten Spain's big three in the same season for the first time in 37 years
Espanyol may lack the glamour and trophies of Spain’s biggest teams, but they beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 in December with an 88th minute goal, Barcelona in a January cup match with an 88th minute goal and, on a freezing Wednesday evening, Real Madrid with a 93rd minute winner. It came after defender Sergio Ramos did what he usually does and moved up field in the hope of getting a late winner. There was a winner, but at the other end as Espanyol did the treble over Spain’s three biggest teams in the same season for the first time in 37 years.
All three victories were most unexpected, especially this victory against Zinedine Zidane’s side. It’s not just that Real Madrid are the reigning Spanish, European and world champions, more that Espanyol’s record against them is so bad that Barcelona fans accuse Espanyol of lying down against their biggest rivals.
Espanyol previously had not beaten Madrid in their own stadium, which opened in 2009. Espanyol, who moved up to 13th in La Liga, had not won in any of their past 20 games against Madrid, drawing three and losing 17. They failed to score in 14 of those, but once again they came good at the end. It was a shame that more of their fans were not there to see it in a half-full 40,000 capacity stadium, but again Espanyol deserved their victory thanks to Gerard Moreno's stunning winner.
Despite Zidane claiming his side “played well in the first half but didn’t manage to score” and that “we did not deserve this defeat in the last minute” Madrid were mediocre at best. The Frenchman claimed that the Catalan team created few chances, but they had several and Moreno had the ball in the back of the net in the first half, only for an incorrect offside decision to rule it out.
With in-form Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 12 goals in his last seven appearances, rested for the second time in a week ahead of the games that Madrid really want to win in the Uefa Champions League to save this season, Gareth Bale started as the leading striker. Zidane had claimed that Ronaldo is coming into form not just because he wants to do well for his club but for his country in this summer's World Cup. He didn’t get a chance to show it against Espanyol.
Bale isn’t going to the World Cup in Russia, but, wearing gloves to counter the Catalan chill, the Welshman was substituted after 80 minutes for Dani Ceballos after a performance that was in line with that of the rest of his teammates – poor. A fit again Bale will start in Madrid’s best XI, but other players failed to take their chance, too. Luka Modric, Casemiro, Marcelo and Toni Kroos were all injured, so Isco and Marco Asensio were given chances in attack with Bale. None convinced.
It wasn’t a vital game; 14 points behind a Barcelona side who remain unbeaten, Madrid’s league aspirations have gone with 13 games still left to play, though at least one of the teams above them will drop points on Sunday when Barca host second-placed Atletico Madrid.
Real Madrid had just hit their best form of the season, though, winning five and drawing one of their previous six league games, yet Espanyol have discovered the trick of besting Spain’s best at home with a late goal - even if they have only won two games in 11 matches between beating the big three.
Quique Sanchez Flores’ side are the only team to beat Barcelona since August. At least Barca fans can’t complain that Espanyol have let Madrid have an easy three points after they inflicted a fifth league defeat of the season on Zidane’s side – more than they lost in all competitions in the whole of last season.
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Updated: February 28, 2018 04:20 PM