MADRID — Real Madrid came back from a goal down to beat Espanyol 3-1 in their LaLiga clash at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.
Joselu gave the visitors a surprise lead in the eighth minute but Vinicius Junior quickly brought Madrid level, cutting inside to curl a shot into the bottom corner. Rodrygo Goes went close twice as Madrid pushed for a second, before Eder Militao headed Aurelien Tchouameni‘s cross in off the bar to put the home side ahead before half-time.
A quieter second half saw Rodrygo hit the woodwork with a free kick and substitute Marco Asensio grab a third goal in added time, as Madrid took the three points to retain some hope of chasing down league leaders Barcelona.
1. Vinicius, Militao and Asensio end Madrid’s goal drought
Going into this game, the talk was that Madrid’s forward line wasn’t fit for purpose, with just one goal scored in their last three games — youngster Alvaro Rodriguez’s header against Atletico Madrid on Feb. 25 — with last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Real Betis conceding more ground in the title race. Those worries were exacerbated by Karim Benzema being ruled out here with an ankle knock.
It was a strange, short-term issue to focus on. Does anybody really doubt the quality and goal-scoring ability of Benzema, Vinicius and Rodrygo after what we’ve seen in the past few years? And you don’t even have to go that far back. As coach Carlo Ancelotti pointed out last week, this is a team that just scored five goals against Liverpool at Anfield.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
Perhaps the team does rely a little too much on the magic of Vinicius to unlock opposition defences, but when he’s on this kind of form, that’s no problem. The winger had four Espanyol defenders to beat when he picked up the ball and drove infield to level the score at 1-1. Rodrygo is an intriguing prospect when picked centrally. Ancelotti’s preferred Benzema backup this season, he looked the most likely to score as Madrid chased a second goal. In fact it was another Brazilian, Militao — dominant in the air in both boxes — who put Madrid ahead with his sixth goal this season.
Madrid are the top scorers in LaLiga despite Benzema’s absences, with 50 goals to Barcelona’s 46. If they fail to win the league — as looks likely — it won’t be for a lack of goals.
2. Defensive questions ahead of Liverpool visit
Madrid’s defensive record this season has been solid; only 1-0 specialists Barca have conceded fewer goals in LaLiga. That hasn’t stopped Ancelotti from frequently switching his back four around though, as if not entirely happy with what he’s seeing. Goal-scorer Militao is part of that first-choice backline for sure, but regular partner Antonio Rudiger hasn’t always convinced. He was rested here, with the experienced Nacho coming in as reward for his recent performances at full-back.
Dani Carvajal starts at right-back when available, but offers much less cutting edge than in the past. At left-back, the unavailability of Ferland Mendy and David Alaba — both expected back soon — saw Eduardo Camavinga once again picked out of position. He was at fault for Espanyol’s opener, unable to deal with Ruben Sanchez‘s cross for Joselu. Camavinga is an asset going forward, as you would expect for a midfielder, but you wouldn’t want to put him up against Mohamed Salah on Wednesday as Liverpool look to overturn a three-goal deficit in their tie. Expect Mendy, if fit, to return to the side to face Liverpool.
3. Joselu returns to once again trouble Madrid
Only Robert Lewandowski has more goals in LaLiga this season than the 12 scored by Joselu, the top-scoring Spanish player. The forward has an incredible record against Real Madrid, too, scoring eight times against them in 10 games in all competitions. He’s in impressive company; only Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are ahead of him on that list since 2010.
The 32-year-old was briefly a Madrid player himself, scoring just once for the first team in an 8-1 win over Almeria in May 2011 — as well as dozens of goals for reserve team RM Castilla — before an erratic career path that saw him play for Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hannover, Stoke City and Newcastle United. He eventually settled back in Spain with Alaves and now Espanyol, where he has belatedly become one of LaLiga’s most consistent finishers.
Espanyol’s hopes of avoiding relegation this season — defeat here left them just two points above the bottom three at the final whistle — rest firmly on Joselu’s shoulders. Among their rivals for the drop, only Getafe, in Enes Unal, can boast such a reliable goal scorer.
Best and worst performers
Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid: Inspired Madrid’s first-half comeback and scored the goal of the game.
Joselu, Espanyol: An unerring finish gave his team hope of an upset.
Rodrygo Goes, Real Madrid: Unlucky not to score, going close on three separate occasions, including hitting the bar.
Eduardo Camavinga, Real Madrid: Not a natural left-back and caught out for Espanyol’s opener.
Martin Braithwaite, Espanyol: The former Barcelona player offered nothing on the left wing.
Vinicius Souza, Espanyol: Couldn’t compete with the class of Tchouameni, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
Highlights and notable moments
After falling behind early on, Madrid equalised thanks to Vinicius doing Vinicius things.
Vini Jr. turned it on for the equaliser 🤩 pic.twitter.com/zALBwCGG4X
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 11, 2023
They then went ahead courtesy of Militao’s header, though that goal was all about Tchouameni’s outrageous cross with the outside of his boot.
Eder Militao puts Real Madrid up 2-1 🔥 pic.twitter.com/b6VTWqU5xf
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 11, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Carlo Ancelotti: “The game was good, we didn’t start well, it could have got complicated, but the goal didn’t affect the attitude of the team, we fought back in the first half and controlled the second half.”
Ancelotti on avoiding complacency against Liverpool: “We had an experience last year with Chelsea, we had the advantage and then it was hard for us. We can’t hide the fact we have an advantage, let’s hope we take advantage of it with a great game, we have to go all out for 90 minutes just as we did in the first leg.”
Vinicius Junior: “We’re calm and [when we go behind] we always come back. We have to keep doing that and keep improving, and thanks to the fans who came today, we have to thank them and hope there are more on Wednesday.”
Vinicius on his goal: “It’s a move I work on in training quite a lot, but in games it’s more difficult because there are a lot of players around me. But I did well.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Joselu’s opening goal was his eighth against Real Madrid in all competitions, his second most against a single club (10 vs. Cadiz). Only Lionel Messi (11) and Luis Suarez (10) have scored more against Los Blancos since 2010.
Joselu’s goal snapped Real Madrid’s seven-game home shutout streak against Espanyol in LaLiga, the club’s longest such streak against a single club in their league history.
Vinicius Junior has scored in both LaLiga matches against Espanyol this season, after scoring in the reverse fixture on Aug. 28.
Eder Militao’s goal was his sixth in all competitions for Real Madrid this season — he’d only scored four previously since joining the club in 2019.
Militao has scored four of Madrid’s five headed goals in LaLiga this season, and he has scored more goals in all competitions (six) than any other defender at a LaLiga club this season. Next on the list is Rayo’s Florian Lejeune (four) and multiple players have three including Barcelona’s Marcos Alonso and Sergi Roberto.
On his 400th appearance for the club, Toni Kroos registered his 81st assist with Real Madrid in all competitions — four of them have been for Vinicius Junior.
Real Madrid’s last loss when leading at half-time in all competitions was in January 2021 in the Copa del Rey against Alcoyano (2-1 after extra time).
Real Madrid: Liverpool come to the Bernabeu on Wednesday looking to overturn a 5-2 deficit from the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie. Then it’s the second of three Clasicos in a matter of weeks as Madrid travel to face LaLiga leaders Barcelona on Sunday, March 19 (stream LIVE at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN+ in the U.S.).
Espanyol: Celta Vigo travel to Catalonia to face Espanyol next Saturday (stream LIVE at 1:30 p,m. ET on ESPN+ in the U.S.) as both sides look to avoid being dragged further toward the relegation mire.
Real Madrid end scoring woes in emphatic style vs. Espanyol