Earlier this month highly respected journalist Gabriele Marcotti insisted via ESPN that Julen Lopetegui’s Real Madrid were not in crisis. It was, to shorthand his thoughts, a blip; nothing more than misfortune to endure two consecutive defeats and a draw. Furthermore, there was sufficient evidence in the forward foraging from los blancos to suggest that all would be okay. Posts had been struck and so forth.
Fast forward to the here and now though and it’s fair to assume that the seasoned pundit has completely revised his view. Just three days after the article was published Real surprisingly lost to a 95th minute goal at Alaves, deepening the doubts that Lopetegui could turn things around. Incredibly this was then followed by a home defeat to Levante and when the visitors went two goals up inside the opening 13 minutes predictably the white hankerchiefs came out at the Bernabeu. The beleaguered 52 year old coach was well and truly on the ropes while the Spanish giants flailed from their worst run of results in living memory.
A slender Champions League victory over Viktoria Plzen this week will have done little to lift the mood in the capital and with that routine win accomplished Real now face their ultimately day of reckoning. For this Sunday at their lowest ebb and deplete of all belief they must travel to the Nou Camp for a Clasico that could conceivably send them spiralling into the lower half of the table with a quarter of the season gone. And gone too surely will be Lopetegui.
Indeed there are strong rumours emanating from the Madrid-based media that the former Porto boss – who so shockingly left Spain in the lurch this summer to take on his dream job – will be relieved of his duties before the fiery fixture even takes place. Santiago Solari, the present manager of Real’s B side, is said to be lined up to replace the under-fire gaffer and this despite a £16m pay-off necessary for this to occur.
As for this weekend’s hosts they have played their arch-rivals in crisis before but never on this scale. And with Suarez and co in typically fine form even factoring in the loss of Messi to injury Barcelona will surely be relishing the prospect of rubbing further salt into the wounds of a long-standing nemesis. The latest la liga odds naturally have Barca down as favourites and that admittedly would probably have been the case anyway. When the big picture is viewed however another nail in Lopetegui’s career coffin feels almost inevitable.