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Is Lopetegui the only one to blame for Real Madrid failure?

The lonely figure, Julen Lopetegui. Photo courtesy – RealMadrid.com

For the first time since November 2010, Real Madrid conceded five goals in a league match against eternal rivals Barcelona at the Camp Nou in yesterday’s 5-1 thrashing. Barcelona went into the break yesterday two nil up but Brazilian full back Marcelo halved the deficit with his 50th minute strike. Perhaps if Luka Modric’s effort had gone in minutes later, the game could have turned on its head but it never happened. Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal finished off the game with three goals in the last 15 minutes of the game to confine Real Madrid to their third consecutive LaLiga defeat leaving the club sitting ninth on the log after 10 rounds of games.

There is a collective belief in the media that Julen Lopetegui will be relieved of his duties as manager of the club in the coming hours but is the Asteasu-born coach the REAL problem at Madrid? Should he be the only one to shoulder the responsibility for this poor start to the season for the European champions? The former Spanish national team coach was a surprise choice as replacement for Zidane who stepped down after leading Los Blancos to three consecutive Champions League success. Lopetegui’s decision to accept the Real Madrid’s job angered the Spanish Football President (RFEF) Luis Rubiales, he fired the coach two days to the start of the World Cup.

Marcelo with the Real Madrid only goal of the game. Photo courtesy – RealMadrid.com

Lopetegui resumed in Madrid in July but did not make the best start, he lost the UEFA Super Cup to Atletico Madrid, a defeat which left bad taste in Los Blancos supporters mouth. The league campaign started quite well, winning the first four league matches and the opening game in the Champions League. The team dominated possession and created scoring chances with its high intensity and press. However, the tempo started dropping off from the Espanyol game where Real Madrid labored to a one nil victory before the first real collapse at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan to Sevilla. With six wins in 14 games, a 43% win ratio, there are suggestions the players are not buying into the coach ideas. World Cup winner Raphael Varane is having a poor season so far and same goes for the BEST winner Luka Modric. Karim Benzema has slipped back to his old form after initial burst, Gareth Bale has not taken up the leadership role in attack and injuries to Isco, Marcelo, Carvajal have not helped the coach in proper planning or embedding of his ideas.
Real Madrid have been conceding goals with ease by playing high up the pitch. Barcelona caught the defense off with a long pass to Jordi Alba whose cross found unmarked Coutinho to shoot Barca into the lead yesterday. In attack, the team has lacked the required cutting edge and quality though there is an argument that chances have been created but not converted due to some bad luck as the team hits the post in virtually all its matches. Cristiano Ronaldo left in the summer and no suitable replacement was brought in, the club decided to place its faith in Marco Asensio to fill the boots of the legendary Portuguese and  bought back Mariano Diaz to provide competition for Benzema. Both decisions have not yielded fruits
There is an unspoken rule at the White House in Madrid which most managers are aware of, lose the Clasico and you are most likely out of a job. Some have lost heavily and were still fortunate to keep their jobs (Mourinho 5-0 loss in November 2010; Zidane 3-0 loss in December 2017) while others like Benitez (4-0 loss in November 2015) did not last much longer after the defeat.

Real Madrid starting XI for El Clasico. Photo credit – RealMadrid.com

How did Real Madrid get here?
The 13th time European Champions got two rude shocks and surprise after conquering Europe for the third consecutive time firstly with winning coach Zinedine Zidane stepping down and Cristiano Ronaldo (the club’s all-time leading scorer) choosing to leave the club. The club did not succeed in getting their first choice options to replace the French man and only settled for Lopetegui as a second thought. In the midst of current crisis, the President has not gone out of his way to back the beleaguered manager which shows his lack of belief in the man he hired or settled for when others turned him down. Reinforcements in playing personnel were required and this was quite obvious from last season when Madrid finished 17 points behind champions Barcelona though their European success helped cover the distinct superiority in the league. The team was heavily reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo for goals last season with Benzema’s deteriorating form and Bale’s fitness issue. At the back, Jesus Vallejo appears to spend more time in the treatment room than on the training ground leaving the central defense short of options considering Raphael Varane’s niggles as well. Marcelo has not had a proper back up which means he has had to play too many games, injuries and fatigue sets in. Mateo Kovacic opted to leave for regular playing time, he was perfect replacement for aging Luka Modric?

How has Madrid fared in transfer market lately? Brazilian teenager Vinicius Jr. was brought in to supplement the attack but the wunderkid shuttles between the first team and Castilla for game time. Alvaro Odriozola arrived to provide cover for Dani Carvajal and Thibaut Courtois joined from Chelsea and as displaced Keylor Navas as starting goalkeeper in the league. The club’s new approach of investing heavily in youngsters for current day success might not yield desired results immediately and there are no guarantees for the future just yet.

Football is result driven sport and business. In today’s world, managers carry most of the can though players are the real protagonists. However, this sport and business have evolved beyond them. Poor decisions and judgement from the board room can affect results on the pitch so critical planning and execution from the upper echelon is very vital. Julen Lopetegui might be Real Madrid scapegoat but Florentino Perez and board need to accept their fair share of responsibility in the team’s poor start to the season. Right now, all that is left is probably the official announcement of a new man in charge.Will he in charge when Real Madrid face Melilla in the first leg of the Copa del Rey Round of 32 match on Wednesday or the LaLiga game against Real Valladolid at the Bernabeu on next Saturday? The waiting game is on….

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