Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
Zinedine Zidane was always going to be a tough act to follow at Real Madrid, and whomever did come in to take that poisoned chalice did so knowing that they wouldn’t have the goals of Cristiano Ronaldo to dig them out of a hole either.
Julen Lopetegui can’t say he didn’t know what he was getting himself into when accepting the post, which has been fraught with drama from the beginning.
An unceremonious sacking on the eve of the World Cup isn’t the way in which the now-Real coach would’ve wanted his new job announced to the wider public, but chief of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), Luis Rubiales, was adamant that he had acted in everyone’s best interests.
Presented soon after by Florentino Perez as the man who would continue to improve Los Blancos and carry the baton of success that Zidane had so successfully held, Lopetegui has been about as far removed from that as it’s possible to be.
Though a UEFA Super Cup defeat to cross-city rivals, Atletico Madrid, in his first competitive game in charge was galling, the coach was still in the honeymoon period and better times ahead were expected.
Indeed, three league wins out of three soon followed, against Getafe, Girona and Leganes.
A 1-1 draw away at Athletic Club was disappointing, but not a disaster, and was soon forgotten as Roma were dispatched 3-0 in the Champions League and Espanyol narrowly beaten in La Liga.
Normal service very much resumed. Or was it…?
Since then, the rot has set in, and what had begun as a drama has now turned into a crisis.
In the four games since Marco Asensio scored the winner against the Periquitos, Real have failed to find the net. Six hours and forty-nine minutes without scoring.
Three of those four matches – Sevilla, CSKA Moscow and Alaves – have been lost, whilst they managed a goalless draw in the league against Atleti, an improvement of sorts on the Super Cup performance and result.
Even Rafa had a superior record going into a fateful Clasico (albeit two weeks later in the season), and look how that turned out. Baffling that sacking Lopetegui is even a consideration https://t.co/mZpUQ5OdfX
— Jason Pettigrove (@jasonpettigrove) October 8, 2018
The team hasn’t been rudderless as such recently, but Lopetegui hasn’t shown the requisite managerial quality when it comes to turning a match around.
The strikers aren’t firing, and the defence looks brittle when pressurised. Even the midfielders are out of form with Luka Modric’s exertions at the World Cup clearly affecting his ability to be decisive over a full 90 minutes.
That the Santiago Bernabeu faithful are desperately calling for 18-year-old Vinicius Junior to be their saviour hints at the problems in Madrid at this moment.
Marcelo and Isco are injured. Gareth Bale was subbed for ‘tiredness’ against Alaves and Lopetegui has shown an inability to decide on whether Keylor Navas or Thibaut Courtois should be the No.1 goalkeeper.
An El Clasico fixture with Barcelona at the Camp Nou is less than three weeks away, so things certainly aren’t going to get any easier for Real in the short term.