Real Madrid were thrashed by Barcelona 5-1 at the Camp Nou in the latest edition of El Clasico, the fiercest football rivalry in Spanish football. Philip Coutinho opened the scoring while Luis Suarez helped himself to a hat-trick in a scoreline that belies reason due to the absence of Barca captain, Lionel Messi.
Real Madrid coach, Julen Lopetegui, was brought in this summer to continue from were Zinedine Zidane stopped but the 50-year-old Spaniard looks nail-on to be sacked in the morning.
In June, Lopetegui was with Spain and tipped to win the World Cup in Russia. Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, came calling and the Basque-born coach couldn’t say no, and that was the beginning of his tumultuous reign which looks certain to end and here are two good reasons why Perez should fire him.
Poor managerial record at clubs
Lopetegui got the Real Madrid gig on the back of a strong Spanish spine to the first team of Los Blancos with five of the regular starters for the national team. He has also worked with most of them at youth level where he enjoyed success and has a reputation for improving youngsters. The record President Perez, however, failed to consider when choosing Lopetegui is his poor record as a club manager.
The man who featured for both Real and Barcelona as a player failed to make an impact as coach of Rayo Vallecano in the Spanish second division. Lopetegui got sacked after 10 games in 2003, and the team subsequently got relegated to the third tier of Spanish football. After cooling off with Real Madrid team B and the Spanish national youth sides, he got his second club appointment with FC Porto in 2014 but was sacked midway through the second season.
In a league where Porto reign supreme alongside Sporting Lisbon and Benfica, sharing silverware available amongst each other, Lopetegui’s time in Portugal yielded no silverware amidst complaints from fans and management. He also lost most of his matches against the other domestic “big two” Sporting and Benfica (won just two of seven). His time in Porto marked the first time the club would go a season trophyless in 26 years, and equalled their worst defeat in Europe- a 6-1 drubbing at Bayern Munich How these statistics went unnoticed by Perez in choosing a manager for the biggest club in world football is quite alarming.
Monotonous style of play
Lopetegui is from the Spanish school of coaches where possession is a determinant factor in their style of play. Such coaches mostly instill a short passing regime on their teams regardless of what style they had been used to previously, and Lopetegui’s previous club jobs are prime examples. While at Rayo Vallecano, he tried to change the club’s football philosophy but got booted out after 10 games. His time at Porto was also similar although he lasted more than a season.
Labelled “Lottotegui” by Porto fans due to the constant rotation of his starting lineup, and his team was also accused of hugging possession “for possession-sake” despite the knowledge that most teams in the league park the bus.
It should be said that there is no wrong in players playing to the coach’s style, however, they should be eased into it. Conte tried imposing a new style at Chelsea but reverted to a trusted formation which suited players at his disposal and got an EPL title as reward.
Mauricio Sarri is doing same presently, studying his players’ strength and weaknesses before deciding on a style of play. Pep Guardiola’s successful time at Barcelona was nurtured over the years, he only tweaked it. Moving closer to home, Zidane did not win three Champions League titles on the bounce by imposing a new style, he merely played to the strength of the players and was an excellent man-manager.
Although Lopetegui’s style initially resulted in five wins from six, including a 3-0 masterclass against Roma, it has quickly spiralled to five defeats in the last seven games.
This is a result of lower teams sitting deep before picking off their abject defence (CSKA Moscow, Alaves and Levante), while the better clubs outrightly attack Los Blancos and get rewards (Atletico, Sevilla and Barcelona). Most of the players at Real can play both possession and counter-attack football, but they are more suited to the latter. Lopetegui, however, prefers everything going through his midfield without the surprise of a shot or cross from unexpected quarters.
The full-backs gallop upfield but still return balls to the midfield and this only allows the opposition to close gaps and reshape for the next onslaught, leaving no space for the pace of Gareth Bale who is all speed and only performs in flashes. The possession-based style won him trophies at national youth team level and a 20-game unbeaten run with the Spanish senior national team, club football is, however, a different playground where managers adapt quickly to opposition formations and inflict pain through the cinch in their armour.