Julen Lopetegui is under the microscope, but Real Madrid transfer policy set coach up to fail

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Julen Lopetegui has been hamstrung by Real Madrid's transfer dealings.

Over the summer, when Real Madrid were making a splash first by hijacking Spain’s head coach right before the World Cup and then by jettisoning the greatest player in their history, there was a sense of rejuvenation at the club.

One chapter, the Cristiano Ronaldo era, was being closed.

But by hiring Julen Lopetegui, a manager renowned for his work with youth players, including Madrid stars Isco and Marco Asensio, as well as for preferring Spain’s famed, possession-based, tiki-taka system, Madrid must have thought they had the perfect boss. He was – surely – uniquely positioned to get the most out of a squad balanced between veterans like Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and Marcelo, and a young cadre led by Asensio and Isco.

Then, in a summer in which they were constantly linked with the likes of Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Kylian Mbappe they spent £35 million on Thibaut Courtois, and exercised a buy-back option on Lyon striker Mariano to purchase him for around £27m.

In signing Courtois, a goalkeeper perhaps better than incumbent Keylor Navas but if so, not by much, perhaps Madrid thought there was no harm in having two of the world’s best goalkeepers at their disposal. But it was a strange move nonetheless, signing a player in a position that didn’t need reinforcement, while replacing a striker who guaranteed 40 to 50 goals a season not with a proven goalscorer, but a 25-year-old former academy product.

Is it all that surprising that Madrid recently set a new club record for minutes without scoring a goal, while losing four games during a five-match winless run?

That run has left Lopetegui under intense pressure. The early-season form of Benzema has fizzled out and Bale, yet again, has missed time with injury – though he’s been Madrid’s best player when fit.

Isco’s appendicitis surgery and subsequent absence has also hit the squad, but the players that are fit – Modric, Kroos, Benzema, Asensio – should be good enough to make up for injuries and illnesses elsewhere.

Benzema was meant to benefit from Ronaldo’s exit, as he would no longer have to play the selfless foil to a prolific scorer. But after two-consecutive braces early on in the season, the Frenchman has now gone eight games without a goal.

Yet he’s Madrid’s joint-top scorer. Is it any wonder they’re seventh in the table?

The players, publicly at least, remain behind Lopetegui, despite the poor run of form and the speculation surrounding his job.

As they should, because while it may be taking time for Lopetegui’s philosophy to take hold, Antonio Conte may be an even more difficult manager to work for, because of the tactical shift he’d bring and the defensive work rate he’d require.

The former Chelsea, Juventus, and Italy manager has made a habit of reviving a grand club’s flagging fortunes – Juventus were similarly a seventh-placed team when he took over.

But a striker struggling for form may not benefit from Conte’s approach – just ask Alvaro Morata. Bale and Asensio would be the ideal players for a counter-attacking team with their pace and skill, but it may not matter if Benzema can’t be revived or Mariano – or young signing Vinicius Junior – can’t be developed.

Even Conte needed strikers like Diego Costa and Carlos Tevez for his success.

Plus, Hazard ended up chafing under the Italian’s style, and it’s likely Isco will eventually feel the same way.

In all likelihood, if Madrid have the patience to endure some more suffering, which is a high expectation from the club, Lopetegui will over time start getting the best out of this team.

But he’ll have to overcome the bigger issue at Santiago Bernabeu: a transfer policy that saw the club that let go of a 50-goal scorer, and then make their biggest signing of the summer a goalkeeper.

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Sport360 staff 22/10/2018
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Hola, Madridistas!

Join the Sport360 team as we all the news regarding Real Madrid after their 2-1 loss to Levante on Saturday put Julen Lopetegui under more pressure.

Los Blancos also look ahead to a midweek Champions League clash against Viktoria Plzen.

Get in touch on Facebook and Twitter throughout the day.

18:45 – Sacking Lopetegui ‘would be crazy’

Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui has come under fire for the club’s poor form ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Viktoria Plzen.

However, midfielder Isco is firmly behind his manager and says the players must take responsibility for the reigning European champions’ slump.

He said: “I think it would be crazy (to sack him), you have to let him work.

Read more here.

Isco

Isco

17:05 – Lopetegui committed to Madrid

Under-fire Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui is adamant he will be in charge of Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Viktoria Plzen.

Read more here.

Julen Lopetegui.

Julen Lopetegui.

13:30 – Ramos urges Madrid fans to keep the faith

The defender also posted a video on his Instagram account of some of his highlights with the club accompanied by dramatic music and the caption: “We always fight, we never surrender.”

Read more here.

Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos

11:37 – Guti frontrunner to replace Lopetegui

Julen Lopetegui’s job as Real Madrid manager is hanging on by a thread but defeat in the Clasico could spell doom for the Spaniard.

Speculation is growing that in the event of his dismissal, former midfielder Guti would step into his shoes.

Read more here.

Guti

Guti

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Sacking Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui 'would be crazy', says Isco

Sport360 staff 22/10/2018
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Isco

Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui has come under fire for the club’s poor form ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Viktoria Plzen.

Reports suggested the former Spain manager was about to lose his job after an embarrassing 2-1 home loss to Levante at the weekend made it four defeats from five in all competitions and left them seventh in La Liga.

However, midfielder Isco is firmly behind his manager and says the players must take responsibility for the reigning European champions’ slump.

He said: “I think it would be crazy (to sack him), you have to let him work.

“He has only been here for two months. If you get rid of the coach you have to get rid of all of us.

“It is us that haven’t been scoring goals or playing well. It belongs to all of us, not just the coach.

“The responsibility is on everyone, not just the coach. It’s the players that don’t score the goals.

“We know better than anyone what the atmosphere is in the changing room.

“It’s calm, we’re confident we can turn things around.”

Real are third in the group, a point behind leaders CSKA, who play Roma.

Plzen travel to the Spanish capital second in their domestic league, but without much expectation.
And midfielder Patrik Hrosovsky is not being fooled by Real’s predicament.

“We certainly have respect for each rival, and of Real Madrid for that quality of course,” he told the club’s official website.

“Now they are not doing so much, but last season it was similar and eventually won the Champions League.

“The quality is huge here.

“I look forward to the stadium and the team, it is definitely an exceptional team, three times in a row they won the Champions League and, of course, no one knows if we will ever have a chance to play against such a team again.”

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