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Julen Lopetegui on the Brink as Real Madrid’s Clasico Collapse Triggers Change at Helm

The 1-5 El Clasico loss to FC Barcelona could be the last match for Julen Lopetegui as Real Madrid manager, with reports hinting that Antonio Conte could take charge as early as next weekend.
Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui

Real Madrid, under Julen Lopetegui, have had one of the worst starts to the season in the past 20 years or so — they have lost four out of their 10 games so far and are languishing in ninth place on the La Liga table (Pic: Lopetegui-Instagram).

Real Madrid’s fortunes have been wayward under Julen Lopetegui this season, yet the club management seemed willing to give the manager a bit more time to settle things down for the European Champions. This had, after all, been a summer of tumultuous change. All that has changed after the humiliating loss against arch rivals FC Barcelona in the Clasico on October 28.

According to reports in the Spanish media, Lopetegui is on his way out. In fact, the reaction is so drastic that the club management may not even give him a single match before sacking him. According to a report in Marca, Real Madrid director Florentino Perez is on his way to hold talks with Antonio Conte, the club’s prime candidate to replace Lopetegui. In fact, Perez left the Camp Nou immediately after the loss, neither talking to the players nor the coach.

The Italian, formerly boss at Chelsea FC in the English Premier League, has been linked with Real for a while now. The big loss against Barca seems to have fast-tracked things up for Real management, who look set to push that extra bit to secure the services of Conte.

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According to reports, in the event that Conte’s services are not secured (he is currently in a legal dispute with his previous owners, Chelsea), junior team coach Santiago Solari might take charge of Real in the upcoming Copa del Rey match against Melilla on October 31. Either ways, Lopetegui is on his way out.

If the sacking happens, it will be the latest big slide for the beleaguered coach, whose career, until a few months back, was soaring — he was head coach of Spain’s national team, and led a successful qualification campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Lopetegui’s downward slide began just before the World Cup when Real made the announcement that he would manage the club, securing his services days before the tournament began in Russia.

The move created quite a stir in the football world with many in Spain condemning Real’s timing. Spanish football bosses removed Lopetegui as the head coach as a knee jerk reaction.

Lopetegui joined Real Madrid, and under him, the club has endured one of its worst starts to the season in the last 17 years. They are now ninth in the standings with four losses out of 10 matches. They have won just one game in their last  six outings — a narrow victory over minnows Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League. Barcelona meanwhile lead the table with just one loss in their 10 outings.

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Lopetegui, meanwhile, remains defiant, and wants to remain in charge of Real Madrid. “I feel sad at the moment, (but) want fully to remain in charge,” Lopetegui said. “This is a big blow but I am strong enough to know everything can be turned around. There is a long way to go and I have a lot of faith in this group of players.”

In the Clasico, Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick to leave Lopetegui's future in doubt. Philippe Coutinho opened the scoring at the Camp Nou while Arturo Vidal headed in a fifth to cap a late flurry of three goals in 15 minutes.

Despite being overwhelmed in the first half, Madrid had threatened a comeback when Marcelo made it 2-1 early in the second half. Their defensive weaknesses showed up though with Suarez raring to exploit them. A competitive match was soon a rout.

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“We all know how the world of football works, and the final responsibility lies with the coach,” Lopetegui said. “I am not stupid but here we win together and lose together. I still believe we are at an early stage of the season and Madrid this year will celebrate.”

“It is hard, a defeat is always hard, even more at Barcelona. We have the feeling that we could have turned the game around, we had chances to equalise, and go on and win,” he added.

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