Real Madrid are reportedly considering sacking head coach Julen Lopetegui just three months after he took charge in sensational circumstances, with Sunday’s Clasico clash with Barcelona potentially decisive for his future.
Lopetegui was contentiously appointed ahead of the World Cup and tasked with replacing three-time Champions League winner Zinedine Zidane but has thus far fallen well short of the Frenchman’s incredibly high standards.
A tough stint began prematurely as Spain sacked him two days before their first World Cup fixture for agreeing a switch to the Santiago Bernabeu, and his first competitive game in charge saw the European champions beaten 4-2 by rivals Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.
Although Madrid ended a five-game winless run against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on Tuesday, Lopetegui could well be dismissed should Madrid lose at Camp Nou against LaLiga leaders Barca.
Having been handed the unenviable job of tackling a packed agenda in pre-season, we assess the things that have not quite gone to plan for the 52-year-old.
GALACTICOS LACKING A GUIDING STAR
With Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale openly discussing possible moves immediately after the Champions League final, Lopetegui needed to find a solution with both players that would work in Madrid’s favour.
In a blow that appears set to define a brief tenure, Ronaldo departed before Lopetegui’s reign was up and running. A transfer to Juventus left Madrid without their talisman and short of options up front.
Bale impressed initially but familiar injury issues have returned to hinder the Wales forward, leaving Lopetegui short of high-class attacking options as Isco has also been sidelined after undergoing appendix surgery.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) July 16, 2018
ZIZOU’S TRUSTED LIEUTENANTS FAILING
Keylor Navas and Karim Benzema appeared to be popular with Zidane despite not always convincing, but Lopetegui would have expected to be able to rely on consistency from key men including Toni Kroos, Marcelo and captain Sergio Ramos.
Thibaut Courtois was expensively acquired as a replacement for Navas, yet Lopetegui has dithered in choosing between the two. The Costa Rica international has kept his place in the Champions League while Courtois plays LaLiga fixtures after joining from Chelsea.
Benzema was left without serious competition after Ronaldo’s sale with only Mariano Diaz coming in following a single season at Lyon and, despite a pair of early LaLiga braces, the former France forward’s lacklustre finishing contributed to Madrid’s astonishing run of four matches without a goal.
At the back, Ramos and Marcelo have been out of sorts and Kroos appears to be suffering from a post-World Cup hangover after Germany’s terrible performance in Russia.
— Thibaut Courtois (@thibautcourtois) September 17, 2018
NO TIME TO DEVELOP YOUNG STARS
Not only was Lopetegui denied the opportunity to coach his country in Russia, poor results – including three successive defeats in October – will likely rob him of the time to develop young players at the Bernabeu.
Theo Hernandez was sent out on loan and Vinicius Junior remains a fringe player, although Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio have been handed more prominent roles than under Zidane.
There is no doubt the supremely talented Asensio is a star of the future, but he is not yet ready to fill the Ronaldo-shaped void and it could prove costly for Lopetegui.
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