By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – As Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui prepares for his first ‘Clasico’ against Barcelona on Sunday, he will be wary that it could also be his last unless his side leave the Nou Camp with all three points.
Here are five reasons why the man sacked as Spain coach in June, when he negotiated a move to Real without informing his employers at the national federation, is on the brink of losing a second job in less than five months.
No-one filling void left by Ronaldo
Lopetegui drew the short straw in not only following Zinedine Zidane, who led the team to a hat-trick of Champions League triumphs, but also by becoming the first Real coach of the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era.
Real initially looked like a more cohesive unit without Ronaldo. There were early signs that Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio would take on more goal-scoring responsibilities.
But as Real went over eight hours without scoring, they were soon missing the presence of Ronaldo, who plundered 451 goals across nine seasons.
Wastefulness in attack, carelessness at the back
Lopetegui has repeatedly said that his side’s problems stem from not converting chances rather than not creating them and statistics back him up.
Real fired 23 shots at goal in the 1-0 defeat at CSKA Moscow and clanged the post twice. In last week’s 2-1 defeat by Levante, Real had 33 shots, hit the woodwork three times and had a goal ruled out by the video assistant referee (VAR).
That wastefulness has been compounded by slack defending, such as conceding five times in the opening 20 minutes of games in all competitions.
Lack of winning pedigree
Lopetegui is not the only Real coach to oversee a difficult period. Zidane had real problems in the league last season which led to his side finishing 17 points behind champions Barcelona.
But while the Frenchman won many trophies with Real as a player and then as coach, the Spaniard has never lifted a major trophy as a manager.
The coach has also been dealt a tough hand with injuries, from Isco missing a month due to appendicitis to Bale’s fitness problems returning. First-choice full backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal have also spent long periods out of action.
According to reports in the Spanish media, the club hierarchy do not view these injuries as mere mishaps. “Directors highlight that the physical state of many players leaves a lot to be desired,” said newspaper ABC.
“While the group has suffered injuries that have put the brakes on their progress, the hierarchy believe many players who have not been injured are not performing as they should be.”
Real may be languishing in seventh place in the standings but they are far from alone in struggling to find their feet in a wide-open, highly competitive La Liga campaign.
Barcelona suffered a freak 2-1 defeat by Leganes and went four games without a league win, while Atletico Madrid have failed to win over half of their games. Valencia, who finished fourth last season, have picked up only one victory.
The strife of other clubs is little consolation to 33-times league champions Real, who have dispensed with coaches days after winning league titles and European Cups.
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)