Friday, October 19, 2007

Espanyol-Madrid Preview: Injury Woes Headline...

Don't look now, but it appears Real Madrid are going into crisis mode yet again. This time, it's not about poor results (they haven't played in a while), but rather an injury bug that seems to have touched their entire squad.

Going into this recently concluded international break, Madrid was reeling. Their center backs were all injured, none more so than 30 million euro Pepe, who's been out for over a month with thigh problems. Fabio Cannavaro was also out, dealing with a bruised knee, and 6'4'' beast Christoph Metzelder was recovering with an injury picked up in a Champions League clash with Werder Bremen.

Luckily for Madrid, all three appear to be getting healthy and a couple may return for this weekend's clash with very in-form Espanyol. (Yes, the same Espanyol who drew with Barca late last season to preserve Madrid's title hopes.)

One defender who will not be ready will be left-back Gabriel Heinze, who suffered a groin tear while with Argentina and will miss at least 3 weeks.

The defense will be going through more rotations until everyone is healthy, so we should expect to see a bit of Miguel Torres, Michel Salgado (ahh), and Marcelo in the coming weeks.

The midfield is ravaged for this weekend and possibly for a few more, as they have lost the services of made-of-glass winger Arjen Robben for a month and a half. He picked up a left muscle tear on international duty (why was he even playing?), and that signals some minutes for hot-and-cold winger Royston Drenthe.

Creative midfielder Guti, who was not on international duty, is a question mark after picking up a heavy knock on his right leg during training earlier in the week.

The Brazilian World Cup Qualifier against Ecuador has cost Madrid dearly for this weekend, as they will be without right winger Robinho and attacking midfielder Julio Baptista. Luckily neither is injured, but both had problems getting back in time for training.

For his part, Robinho was reported to be partying into the wee hours of the night, following Brazil's victory over Ecuador on Wednesday. The Brazilian daily "O Globo" reported that the party took place in Catwalk, one of the most luxurious discos in the city. Apparently other players attended as well, and allegedly Robinho had himself a fantastic time, and left after 5 am.

Not surprisingly, the wiser Baptista did not attend this party, and was considered to be late due to travel issues. Regardless, Schuster is not happy and did not include either for the game this weekend.

He is especially upset with Robinho, saying, "Robinho went to play for Brazil without even having medical permission. So it is really positive that he has got fit playing for his national team," he added with irony.

It's going to be an interesting weekend for the club at the Olympic Stadium in Catalunya. Espanyol are red-hot, driven by a powerful attack and a string of good results. They are led by forwards Raul Tamudo (17 goals in 06-07) & Luis Garcia (15 goals in 06-07), and powered by midfield engine Albert Riera (8 goals and 7 assists in 06-07). They have won 4 of their past 5 games, and this coupled with Madrid's injuries woes makes this look like a 2-1 Espanyol victory.

It should be a fun game to watch, as we may get a chance to see Higuan playing wide out right, with either Schneider or Drenthe wide out left. The last few matches have been ugly, so a change may actually spark some nice play. More likely, it may be more of the same as players are not used to the new cast of substitutes.

Thank you international are not only boring and interminable, but you are cruel.