Real Madrid are already sounding out potential replacements for Julen Lopetegui after the new manager made a disastrous start to life at the Bernebeu. Los Blancos are winless in their last four games and the players are said to be mutinous over his questionable tactics. A 1-0 defeat away at Alaves last time out embarrassed the European champions, and Lopetegui is on very thin ice indeed. Florentino Perez has already drawn up a shortlist of candidates to replace the former Spain boss, including Antonio Conte, Michael Laudrup and Laurent Blanc.
Lopetegui’s one saving grace is that Barcelona have also made a surprisingly sluggish start to the new campaign. Lionel Messi and co have already drawn three and lost one out of their eight games, meaning the title race is still very much alive and kicking. In fact, Real Madrid find themselves just two points behind leaders Sevilla and a mere point behind Barca and Atletico Madrid. If results go their way this weekend, they could find themselves topping the table by Saturday evening night.
Barcelona host Sevilla and Atletico have a tricky away game to contend with at Villarreal, whereas Real Madrid are just 1/5 to secure victory against Levante with top betting sites like YouWager. On paper, it looks like a straightforward clash for Real, but taking all three points will be easier said than done. They drew both home and away against Levante last season, and that was when they had Zinedine Zidane in the dugout and Cristiano Ronaldo leading the line. Now they look lost in this new era and nothing is guaranteed.
Defeat would probably spell the end for Lopetegui. He arrived to great fanfare in the summer, derailing Spain’s World Cup hopes in the process, and he led Los Blancos to three straight victories at the start of the league campaign. A draw away at Athletic Bilbao was followed by a handsome 3-0 Champions League victory over Roma and a 1-0 win against Espanyol, and life in the post-Ronaldo era was looking decidedly rosy.
Yet the wheels have since come off in spectacular fashion for Lopetegui. They were humbled in a 3-0 defeat away at Sevilla, before Atletico Madrid held them to a draw at the Bernebeu. Then came a shock 1-0 defeat away at 10-man CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, before that embarrassing defeat against Alaves.
Real Madrid have now gone four games without scoring, and that is simply unacceptable for Perez. Despite losing Ronaldo and failing to replace him, they still boast plenty of firepower. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio should make a formidable attacking triumvirate, but they have been blunted. The finger is being pointed at Lopetegui and his tactics, which are said to have infuriated Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the midfield. The new manager has urged them to play the sort of patient, tiki taka style so beloved by Barcelona, whereas Real’s stars want to focus on the swift transitions and blistering counterattacks that made them European champions for three years in a row.
After the Levante game, Real Madrid face Plzen in the Champions League, and then it is the big one. El Clasico takes place at Camp Nou next Sunday, and the pressure is mounting on Lopetegui. If his team lose to either Levante or Plzen, or suffer a mauling at the hands of Barcelona, he will surely be made to walk the plank. He therefore has three games in which to save a job he walked away from the Spain team for, and he needs to win his players over quickly. It will be fascinating to see if he can pull it off.