MADRID, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Real Madrid have the chance to further extend their lead at the top of the Liga Santander at the start of a week which promises to be decisive in the outcome of the title race.
Zinedine Zidane's side entertain Espanyol on Saturday in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium before travelling to play one of the two games they have in hand over their title rivals in Valencia on Wednesday.
Saturday's game comes on the back of Madrid's 3-1 win at home to Napoli in which they played some of their best football of the year to come back from a goal down and Zidane will probably make some changes to his starting 11 with players such as Matteo Kovecic, Isco and Nacho Fernandez in with the chance of starting.
The big news for Saturday is the likely return of Gareth Bale to action after almost three months out with an ankle injury. Bale is unlikely to start the game, but will probably be introduced as a substitute sometime in the second half.
Espanyol have traditionally been a comfortable rival for Real Madrid and last season saw them beaten 6-0 at home and away to the league leaders. However, they have toughened up considerably under Quique Sanchez Flores and after a slow start to the season have an outside chance of qualifying for Europe next season.
Gerard Moreno is a handful in attack, while former Valencia winger Pablo Piatti is usually at the heart of their best moves and has been involved in half of their goals this season, either scoring them himself, or supplying the final pass.
Meanwhile former Real Madrid goalkeeper, Diego Lopez is assured of a warm reception on his return to the Bernabeu, although most Madrid fans will be expecting to see him pick the ball out of the net on more than one occasion.