As discussed in this space last week in the build-up to El Clasico, Julen Lopetegui would’ve been as good as gone had he lost at Camp Nou. Of course, getting thrashed by a Lionel Messi-less Barcelona 5-1 would’ve sent Real Madrid managers packing than the one that had overseen his side languishing at seventh in La Liga before the contest.
Lopetegui has had a tough few months in terms of employment, having been sacked by the Spanish national side on the eve of this year’s World Cup, and now laid off by Madrid merely two months – and 14 matches – into his role.
Following Sunday’s defeat, Real Madrid are now ninth, with seven points and seven teams between them and their arch-rivals Barcelona, after 10 rounds of fixtures. By the time you read this, Real Madrid would’ve already hosted Valladolid (on Saturday), which would be the second game for interim manager Santiago Solari after overseeing the 4-1 away to Melilla in the Round of 32 of the Cope del Rey.
Solari, former Real Madrid star as a player, and the current coach of the B team, has the opportunity that few full-time managers have at the Bernabeu: having nothing to lose as he rebuilds the side and puts his stake forward towards getting the full-time role.
Solari inherits a side that is currently on its worst start since the 2001/02 season. The only ray of hope for them this season would be the Champions League – where they are the three-time defending champions. Even so, despite topping their group with six points in three games, Madrid have lost a match there as well – away to CSKA Moscow – with Roma just a point behind them on the table.
Copa del Rey could be another tournament that the side could target, in addition to the World Club championship.
Even so, more than hunting silverware, it’s the direction that the club is headed towards in the post Zinedine Zidane era that would be the worry for Real Madrid fans.
There are problems aplenty at Real. Having sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus in the summer, Real’s goal-scoring problems can be gauged by the 481 minutes that they spent without scoring – a new club record – across almost a month of football.
Following the drubbing at Barcelona, Real Madrid have extended their winless streak in La Liga to five matches. Their last win came against Espanyol on September 22, following which they’ve lost to Sevilla, Alaves and Levante, and drawn the match at home against Atletico.
The immediate goals for Solari would be to get Real to climb up the league table by ending that winless streak, and to qualify for the next round of the Champions League – ideally as group leaders, by warding off the challenges posed by Roma and Moscow.
The schedule works in Solari’s favour with Real playing Viktoria Plzen away this Wednesday, with the real tester coming away to Roma in Match Day 5 on November 27. Should some stability gradually return to the Bernabeu, Real should be hopeful about getting the job done at home to CSKA Moscow in the final group fixture on December 12.
In the league, after Valladolid, Madrid play Celta Vigo and Eibar this month – both away, and below Madrid going into this weekend’s fixtures. Those matches are followed by December contests against four more sides below Real as things stand – struggling Valencia, bottom-placed Huesca, second to bottom Rayo Vallecano, and another troubled big name Villareal, currently in 17th position. However, given Real Madrid’s World Club Championship fixtures, the latter two might be postponed.
In any case, the fixture list has worked out kindly for Solari, allowing him to settle in over the next couple of months till the winter break. It is conceivable that by the time Madrid take on Sociedad on January 6, they could be nearer to the top five in the league – with games in hand – through to the Round of 16 in the Champions League and Cope del Rey.
Alternatively, of course, Real Madrid’s season could continue to go pear-shaped, resulting in further slumps in the league, which could seriously endanger Champions League qualification for next season. Couple this with early Copa del Rey and Champions League exits following the turn of the year, and the unthinkable failure to win the World Club Championship and Madrid could have their worst season since the turn of the millennium. This after winning nine trophies in two and half years under Zidane.
With the full-time position up for grabs, the likes of Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino – among others – might still remain linked to the club over the next few weeks. What is clear, however, that this would remain a transition season for Real Madrid – regardless of who eventually gets the manager’s position – unless unprecedented miracles ensure at the Bernabeu over the next seven months.