Ta’s Timeout: Real Madrid sacks Julen Lopetegui just in time

Graphic by Meghan Joyce

After just four months in charge, Real Madrid has sacked head coach Julen Lopetegui, following their embarrassing 5-1 defeat at the Camp Nou against their biggest rivals, Barcelona. Soccer fans around the world reasonably expected this to happen sooner or later.

Before taking the Real Madrid job, Lopetegui was the manager of the Spanish National Team. Just before the 2018 FIFA World Cup started in June, when the Spanish squad were already in Russia, Lopetegui was announced as the new Real Madrid manager. Lopetegui was immediately let go by the national team, and began to focus on Madrid.

The bar that former manager Zinedine Zidane set at Real Madrid was always going to be too high for any manager to meet. In the span of three years, Zidane led the insanely talented club to one Supercopa de España, one La Liga Title, two UEFA Super Cups, two FIFA Club World Cups, and most importantly, three straight UEFA Champions League titles.

About a month and a few days after Zidane stunned the football world and stepped down from his managerial position, Real Madrid superstar and five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo signed a four-year contract with Italian giant, Juventus FC.

Despite Ronaldo’s departure, Lopetegui entered the job optimistically, hoping that the leadership remaining on the world class side would be enough to carry him to at least half of Zidane’s success.

With two World Cup champions, Spanish center back Sergio Ramos and French center back Raphael Varane, serving as the defensive backbone of the European giants, Lopetegui had a good reason to be confident about his team. That’s not to mention that he also had 2018 FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winner Luka Modric and the Golden Glove winner, Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois.

Yet, it was clear from the start that Lopetegui’s desired path to success with Real Madrid was going to be difficult. His first competitive game in charge was against none other than Spanish giant and Madrid crosstown rival, Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, a match played between the winners of the Europa League and the Champions League.

The game was tied after 90 minutes with Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos getting on the scoresheet for Real Madrid. Atletico striker Diego Costa scored twice as well.

Extra time proved to be too much for Lopetegui’s tactics as Atletico Madrid scored twice within six minutes to seal the victory in one of the most intense Spanish matchups of the 2018-19 season so far.

Things went from bad to worse following the end of September when the defending European champions entered a run of bad form, consisting of losses against Russian side CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, along with Spanish sides Sevilla, Deportivo Alavés and Levante in La Liga.

The humiliation against Barcelona, which consisted of a hat-trick by Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, marked the end of Lopetegui’s managerial term at Real Madrid. The club released an announcement of the decision the day after, also confirming the temporary appointment of Real Madrid B coach, Santiago Solari.

Although it is still moderately early in the season, Real Madrid are sitting at ninth place in the La Liga table, in danger of not qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since 1997. Obviously, most football fans expect Real Madrid to turn their season around, but questions are now arising as to who will be their next manager and whether or not they will be able to motivate the players and implement the proper tactics.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino, the Belgian National Team’s Roberto Martinez, and ex-Chelsea manager Antonio Conte are among the favorites to take the position. More outlandish but seemingly plausible options include ex-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and current Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.

Times are tough at the moment for Madridistas, but at the very least they can appreciate the efficiency of the club in firing Julen Lopetegui while their season is still alive. Only time can tell whether or not the defending European Champions can reassert their superiority in Spain along with the other Spanish giants.

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