Julen Lopetegui must resolve Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale futures at Real Madrid, plus other lead issues

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After nine trophies that included three-consecutive Champions League titles in just two years and four months in charge of Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane made certain that his would be a tough act to follow.

The man entrusted with the task of maintaining the Spanish giants’ incredible run of recent success is Julen Lopetegui.

An enormous job awaits the 51-year-old, who is currently leading Spain into the World Cup in Russia, as there are several issues that need addressing once his duties with the national team are concluded.

GOALKEEPER

Reports linking David De Gea to Madrid just won’t go away and if there’s one manager who could persuade the Manchester United star to force the move through, it’s Lopetegui.

He’s shown great faith in the goalkeeper’s abilities having worked with the 25-year-old not just with Spain’s senior squad but also while he coached the younger age groups. Lopetegui will have to take a decision on Keylor Navas and accordingly act to recruit De Gea.

SUPERSTARS

Resolving the futures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale swiftly will serve to pacify Madrid’s support. The Portugal star is likely angling for a pay-rise following his phenomenal form in 2018. Meanwhile, the club’s hierarchy will be keen on retaining Bale’s services after his Champions League final heroics.

The Wales forward, however,  has demanded regular playing time. Lopetegui is a big fan of Spain internationals Isco and Marco Asensio, meaning he must decide whether it is worth giving into Bale’s demands.

STRIKER

With Zidane gone, Karim Benzema has lost his protective shield. The striker is dispensable but with Harry Kane signing a new six-year deal at Tottenham, Madrid’s options in the market are limited.

They could yet make a swoop for Robert Lewandowski or perhaps look at one of the strikers who have shone in Serie A. Lopetegui’s arrival also means a return for Valencia’s Rodrigo Moreno becomes a viable option.

YOUNG GUNS

Lopetegui’s extensive work with younger age groups makes him the perfect candidate to help Madrid blood some of the emerging youngsters. The likes of Dani Ceballos, Marcos Llorente and Mateo Kovacic need to be able to relieve midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.

At 32, centre-back Sergio Ramos will need replacing in the coming years as well with Jesus Vallejo slowly making the grade. Lopetegui will no doubt relish the opportunity to get the most out of Asensio in attack, as well.

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Live Real Madrid blog: Julen Lopetegui announced as Zinedine Zidane's replacement

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All the latest Real Madrid news.

Niall and the rest of the Sport360 team are in place to provide you with the latest news, pictures, comment and analysis on Real Madrid.

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11:09pm – What lies in Lopetegui’s in-tray

An enormous job awaits the 51-year-old, who is currently leading Spain into the World Cup in Russia, as there are several issues that need addressing once his duties with the national team are concluded.

Brendon Netto looks at what’s on his to-do list.

10:03pm – Lopetegui will allow Madrid to express themselves

Sport360’s Brendon Netto takes an in-depth look at Spain coach and Real Madrid’s new manager Julen Lopetegui.

Read the piece here.

07:11pm – Julen Lopetegui announced as Zinedine Zidane’s replacement

Real Madrid have announced Spain boss Julen Lopetegui will be their new head coach after the World Cup.

Read the full story here.

06:35pm – Rakitic says he would be happy if Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Real Madrid

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic has admitted that he wouldn’t mind if Cristiano Ronaldo decides to leave Real Madrid.

In an interview with Marca, the Croatian talked about Ronaldo’s strengths and how he is someone who is always a threat to Barcelona’s chances of winning trophies.

Read the full story here.

10:00am – Ronaldo unhappy at contract offer

Cristiano Ronaldo is unhappy with Real Madrid’s latest contact offer, according to Marca.

The Portuguese’s future at the club has been cast into doubt since comments he made after the Champions League final last month.

And the Spanish publication has claimed that the 33-year-old superstar is now “more upset than ever” at the Bernabeu.

After helping Los Blancos become European champions for a third successive season, the forward is demanding to earn an equal salary to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi – who takes in nearly double of what the former Manchester United man does.

Messi earns a weekly income in excess of £500,000, but the Madrid hierarchy would be unwilling to pay a salary of that nature to their prized asset.

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Lopetegui is the type of coach who will allow Real Madrid's stars to express themselves

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Julen Lopetegui

Real Madrid have announced the appointment of Spain’s Julen Lopetegui as their coach from next season.

“Julen Lopetegui will be the coach of the first team during the next three seasons,” the Champions League winners said in a statement, adding that the 51-year-old “will join the club after Spain’s participation in the World Cup“.

Lopetegui will replace Zinedine Zidane as coach at the Santiago Bernabeu, after the Frenchman quit on May 31 in the wake of their Champions League final win over Liverpool in Kiev.

The news comes as a jolt for Spain, just three days before their opening World Cup game against Portugal in Sochi.

The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) confirmed that Madrid will pay compensation to get Lopetegui out of the two years he has remaining on his contract with the national team.

BACKGROUND 

A respectable goalkeeping career which featured appearances for the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Spain preceded Julen Lopetegui’s foray into management.

His first coaching job was as one of Juan Santisteban’s assistants for the Spain Under-17s before a brief and unsuccessful stint managing Rayo Vallecano.

Following a period of five years away from the dugout, he returned to coaching with Real Madrid Castilla for one season.

From 2010 to 2014, he climbed through the ranks, coaching the Spanish U19, U20 and U21 sides while winning the U19 and U21 European Championships.

Despite a largely disappointing two-year spell with FC Porto who relieved him off his duties during his second season with the club, he was appointed as Spain head coach Vincente de Bosque’s successor in 2016.

Lopetegui has since impressed in the role, storming through the World Cup 2018 qualifications and leading Spain into the tournament in Russia as one of the favourites.

Julen Lopetegui.

Julen Lopetegui.

HONOURS

Spain U19

European Under-19 Championship 2012

Spain U21

European Under-21 Championship 2013

PHILOSOPHY

What makes some of the best coaches in the world so successful is their attention to detail. They’ve spent countless hours on the training pitch and several sleepless nights engineering a specific blueprint. It’s no wonder they can be uncompromising in their demands of players to meet the requirements of their meticulously manufactured systems so that they can be executed with absolute precision.

That’s not the kind of process Lopetegui abides by. His belief is that players shouldn’t be slaves to a particular system lest they compromise their own ingenuity, the very thing that can set them apart, make them unpredictable and help conjure a moment of brilliance.

Instead, Lopetegui provides his players with a clear structure but one within which they have the freedom to express themselves. The system, formation and indeed tempo are ultimately determined by the players’ capabilities and reaction to adopting a designated style of play which is most important. The Spaniard values good decision-making in key moments.

Lopetegui describes football as a continuous loop involving four phases: attack, the transition from attack to defence, defence and the transition from defence to attack.

Dominating possession is helpful as it facilitates the control of these four phases but Lopetegui recognises that there are a variety of ways to win a football match.

A counter-attacking aspect can be just as effective when executed at the opportune moment. Without the ball, he speaks of two key important moments: aggressively pressing the ball immediately after losing possession and if unsuccessful, the ability to restore order and find a steady defensive balance.

He prioritises a defined personality and clear concepts of the game which will then enable his players to work out the best solutions for themselves in the heat of battle.

WORLD CUP TACTICS

Staying true to his philosophy, Lopetegui has proven to be tactically flexible. Spain went unbeaten in their qualification campaign, winning nine of their 10 fixtures, scoring 36 goals and shifting between a three-man and four-man defence along the way. Against tougher opposition though, Spain seemed to favour a 4-3-3 formation.

There are different variations to that system as well. Against Italy in qualifying, Sergio Busquets anchored the midfield with Andres Iniesta and either Koke or Thiago Alcantara operating ahead of him. Meanwhile, David Silva and Isco tucked in from out wide and allowed the full-backs to push forward.

Most recently though, Lopetegui has utilised a 4-2-3-1 formation with Thiago sitting alongside Busquets in midfield and Iniesta operating wide on the left with Isco as the number 10 and Silva on the right. Those three attacking midfielders in behind the striker are interchangeable and their starting positions have little bearing on how and where they affect the game.

Regardless of the system, Lopetegui’s use of the full-backs is crucial. Dani Carvajal – who will be replaced by Alvaro Odriozola for the first couple of World Cup games as he recovers from injury – and Jordi Alba push high up the field in possession and provide the team’s genuine width.

That allows the likes of Silva and Iniesta to tuck in and receive the ball in between the lines. Their supreme technical ability, close control and acceleration into pockets of space create problems in the opposition’s final third.

Without possession, Lopetegui enforces an initial high-press, compelling the opposition to attempt risky passes. The pace and width offered by the likes of Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez is often used off the bench.

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