Julen Lopetegui has described football as being like a “melon” and claims there is no extra motivation to beat his former team Real Madrid.
Former Los Blancos boss Lopetegui is now in charge at Sevilla and they host Zinedine Zidane’s side on Sunday. It will be Lopetegui’s first game against his former club after being sacked as Real manager last season.
It was a messy few months for Lopetegui who arrived after being dismissed by Spain just two days before the start of the 2018 World Cup, due to him signing a deal to take over the Madrid giants on the eve of the tournament. However, he only managed the club for four-and-a-half months before being replaced in October.
The 53-year-old has found some sort of stability in the Andalusian capital, with Sevilla undefeated in La Liga with three victories and one draw this season.
On Sevilla being favourites to win the game, Lopetegui said: “You are the ones who are making the headlines. If I would be giving me a goal or a point, I would be happy to do it, but that’s not the case.
“The football matches are like a melon. You don’t know how sweet they are until you try them. So, we will have to give our best tomorrow. There’s no point on talking about expectations in a game against Real Madrid. They are a great team and we are too.”
Last time Real won at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan was back in 2015. Since then Sevilla have won the four ensuing encounters.
A humbling night in Paris on Wednesday spoke volumes of the dire situation Real Madrid find themselves in.
Their 3-0 Champions League defeat away to a depleted Paris Saint-Germain was a jarring result and one of the worst of Zinedine Zidane’s troubled second coming.
The three-times winner of the competition from 2015-18 with Los Blancos has struggled to get his house in order, winning just seven of his 16 games in all competitions since March’s reappointment. This win rate of just 43.75 per cent makes for poor reading especially since the man he replaced, Santiago Solari, was sacked following a record of 68.75 per cent from 32 games.
Having scored for AC Milan in a 5-0 demolition of Madrid in the 1988 European Cup semi-final, Ruud Gullit has witnessed the Spanish giants suffer in a competition they’ve enjoyed so much success first hand.
Just why the Frenchman’s second stint with Los Blancos has even materialised after stepping aside following a miraculous hat-trick of Champions League titles remains a source of confusion for the Netherlands icon.
“It’s a hard job for him,” the 57-year-old said speaking at the DSA Open – part of the DHL Swing Against Cancer Golf Series – at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai.
“I’m surprise that he did it. If you win three Champions Leagues in a row, why do you go back? To do what? Now there’s talk about whether he will last until Christmas. You don’t want that.”
A former midfield stalwart himself, Gullit was quick to praise the performers in the middle of the park for PSG where he believes the Ligue 1 champions were the superior force.
He said: “They (PSG) had players who wanted to show themselves. In midfield they were outstanding – hard work, good technique. That was the key difference – midfield.”
Incidentally, that’s the same area in which Madrid have been found wanting. They failed to land Paul Pogba from Manchester United during a summer in which they were also heavily linked to Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen.
Madrid are still stocked with quality, but Gullit believes a part of the squad has gone stale and, especially in midfield, reinforcements are required.
He said: “There are a lot of players there who have been there for a long time and they’re good but sometimes you need new players to keep them on their toes and get better.
“That’s what they need and Real Madrid are in a transition. He (Zidane) has to sort out his midfield.”
Julen Lopetegui will know exactly how Zinedine Zidane feels when his La Liga leaders Sevilla host Real Madrid on Sunday, but the French boss won’t expect any sympathy from his counterpart.
Lopetegui is busy resurrecting his managerial career after a disastrous four-month spell in charge of Los Blancos last season, and his arc dissects a point which sees Zidane’s own reputation beginning to nosedive.
Madrid’s disjointed start to the league campaign segued into a brutal Champions League opening defeat at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
The team’s failure to register a single shot on target in the 3-0 reverse, the first time Real recorded such a statistic in the Champions League since Opta kept track in 2003, was reminiscent of the anemic displays under Lopetegui in 2018/19.
But aside from Barcelona, a Lopetegui-led Sevilla is arguably the last side Zidane would want to face next up with his tactical acumen under serious examination. Tactics form the first part of our key talking points for Sunday’s contest at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium.
CHANGE OF SHAPE, CHANGE OF FORTUNE?
James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos spent most of their time in Paris looking at each other like unprepared students during an exam.
Neither knew where or when to press with Rodriguez, a dynamic No10, crowbarred awkwardly into a deeper midfield slot, while Kroos was caught walking as Angel Di Maria sprinted past him for the opener and then failed to follow Thomas Meunier for PSG’s third.
The disorganisation in midfield was absolutely galling, but entirely predictable considering the limited resources invested into that department over the summer. Indeed, only Madrid could spend over €300 million in one transfer window and yet still lack depth.
The trio of Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric has long papered over Zidane’s tactical inadequacies, but with no fresh faces arriving, Modric’s physical decline and Kroos’ indifferent form has left Casemiro trying to blanket a forest fire with a flannel.
There’s no Modric or Isco and potentially Federico Valverde as well on Sunday and following the disintegration of their shapeless 4-2-3-1 against PSG, Zidane needs a rethink.
There are two options. Either a three-man defence which he used in the final two pre-season games or a 4-4-2.
Real don’t have the defenders for three at the back, but the set-up does mean Zidane can pack the midfield with wing-backs.
The 4-4-2 pairs Casemiro and Kroos together in middle while also freeing up Eden Hazard to operate much closer to Karim Benzema. What Madrid need above everything else is clarity, and that ultimately comes from Zidane.
HAZARD LIGHTS FLASHING
“I’m not going to complain about the squad I have. If that was the case then I’d need to look for a new job.”
Zidane might not be complaining publicly just yet, but behind the scenes rumours are rife that the acquisitions he desired were not brought to the Bernabeu.
And he might be searching for a new job…
One glaring omission is of course Paul Pogba and while a game of who signed who has played out over the responsibility for the other signings, one player Zidane certainly wanted and got is Hazard.
Zidane’s tactical deficiencies are nothing new but his ability to cajole star talents is undeniable. Signing the best individuals on the planet was therefore always going to shape his transfer plot rather than buying component parts to fit into a wider philosophy.
Hazard fit that remit, the former Chelsea man long dazzling English football as one of the most effective attackers in Europe.
However, Hazard is already in serious danger of following Philippe Coutinho in flopping after a mega-money move from the Premier League. Injury is a mitigating factor which has blighted his start to life at Real, but even taking into account his fitness and unfamiliarity with the team, the Belgian’s anonymous display against PSG points to the mentality of a player who at times has been marginal.
Hazard’s whimsical nature was often one of his biggest criticisms at Chelsea, but at Real a hard-edged winning mentality must emerge to see him successful. He is the only one of their summer buys who is undoubtedly world class and that reputation brings immense expectation.
He has to start performing, and quickly, for the sake of himself and the man who brought him to Madrid.
LOPETEGUI STARTS WELL… AGAIN
The first few weeks of Lopetegui’s reign as Real boss actually pointed to some promise. In La Liga, Los Blancos were unbeaten through the first five games, winning four and earning a very credible point away at Athletic Bilbao.
Then they travelled to Sevilla and were hammered 3-0. There’s a curious symmetry here with that defeat highlighting Real’s problems; no Cristiano Ronaldo, the waning influence of their midfield and a creaking defence.
All three problems remain and Zidane now takes his side to their familiar bogey ground with Sevilla in great form. Lopetegui, though, will be hyper-aware things can change fast after his Real stint, even despite the fact that Sevilla are surprisingly top having taken 10 points through the first four fixtures.
“We had a good start, the team was playing well but then we had three very bad weeks,” Lopetegui recalled this week.
The former Spain boss will be desperate to get a result on Sunday, not only to exact revenge on his past employers, but to maintain a very promising start.
Defensively, Sevilla are markedly improved, conceding just once all season with Celta Vigo’s sole goal in a 1-1 draw arriving having only managed two shots at goal. One of the reasons for their early success is another man who will want to impress on Sunday, Sergio Reguilon.
Cast aside by Zidane, the on-loan left-back has been one of their best performers so far and will be dangerous against a very weak Real Madrid right side.