Espanyol 2-1 Real Madrid: hosts stun struggling Los Blancos | La Liga 2021-22

Carlo Ancelotti - Everton Manager

Real Madrid fell to a shock defeat to Espanyol on Sunday to make it two losses within a week for the La Liga leaders.

The result was just the second time Espanyol have beaten Real Madrid since their promotion to the Spanish top-flight and handed Los Blancos their first loss of the league season.

Ancelloti’s men came into this tie on the back of an embarrassing loss in the UEFA Champions League midweek and were expected to easily win this tie. But what played out was a poor performance that will leave fans questioning their readiness to go the distance in the title race.

To be fair to the visitors, though, they began the game well and were the first to have a goal-scoring chance through Karim Benzema. But the Espanyol defence stood firm 

But the hosts were the first to strike in the 23rd minute through Raúl de Tomás, who finished off a good team move.

Despite falling behind, Madrid continued to dominate the hosts but could not make their dominance pay. 

Rather it was Espanyol who scored again in the 60th minute when right winger Aleix Vidal left scored after a solo run.

The visitors scored in the 71st minute through Benzema to set up a nervy finish.

But in the end, the goal proved to be just a consolation as Espanyol held on for a famous win.

Here are three possible reasons why Real Madrid lost 

Early goal cost Real Madrid

The way Real Madrid started the game, it looked like they were going to beat their hosts for 105th time–the most of any side against a single opponent in La Liga history.

But when you concede that early in a game, it takes great mental strength for you to come back and win. After scoring, the hosts allowed their opponents to keep the ball while relying on counterattacks to create chances.

And their game plan worked well for them as Madrid laboured to break them down.

Injury to key players limited options for Ancelotti

Again, when looking at the team that started at Espanyol, it is easy to predict that they could struggle.

Carlo Ancelloti started with the trio of Camavinga, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in midfield, while Valverde and Vinicius partnered Benzema in front.

On paper, the team that started looks strong, but that doesn’t tell the full story.

To see the full scope, one has to look at the players who could not start the game due to fitness issues and those who completely missed out through injuries.

Gareth Bale, Marcelo, Farlen Mendy, Isco, Carvajal and Asensio all missed the game through injury, while Casemiro and Hazard could only start on the bench.

Had these players been fit, it is difficult to envision a situation where Madrid would have lost.

A fully fit Hazard will certainly be starting ahead of Valverde in attack, while a case can also be made for Daniel Carvajal starting if he was available.

The international break will afford Ancelloti the chance to welcome back some of his missing stars.

“We weren’t comfy. We conceded early, and that makes the game tougher for you,” Madrid defender Nacho said after the game.

 “They got in behind us a lot, and we need to work on our defensive play, and that will come with games.

“We’ve got several players missing, but we still have a good squad, and we should be doing better than in our last three games. We need to improve at the back and respond.”

Fatigue and mental stress

For a squad with the experience and quality of Real Madrid, it could sound too foolish to say that they lost a match due to stress or fatigue. After all, these players are elite players and are expected to handle the pressure.

But a closer look at what is going on at the Spanish side reveals signs of fatigue.

Ancelloti, for example, looked tired and in need of a break after his loss in the Champions League game in midweek. And on Sunday, he didn’t look remarkably better.

A case can also be made for Benzema, who is almost carrying the weight of the club on his shoulders, both in terms of leadership and goals.

It looks as though if the Frenchman doesn’t score, nobody else would. Such high expectations can make a player produce below his best.

Madrid fans will now hope that the international break will allow their players to refresh themselves and come back stronger.