Are Barcelona hitting poor form at the wrong time?

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Even before the new Spanish league started Barcelona were installed as favourites. The bookmakers were not silly and realised that too much had changed at Real Madrid for them to compete this season, no Zidane and no Ronaldo meant transition and then Julen Lopetegui was sacked and the best Madrid could muster was Santiago Solari to steer the ship until the end of the season. Madrid looked doomed and Barcelona looked set on to win yet another league title.

And so the title played out that way, at one point just a few months back, Barcelona had gone 10 points clear of Real Madrid, and then February happened.

With 23 games played and 15 more still to go Barcelona are in 1st place but the gap is not just 6 points. Real Madrid have swallowed 40% of that gap up after going their last 5 games in a row unbeaten and winning all of those matches. Of course it’s not as if Barcelona have started to lose games because they haven’t. They have lost just 2 all season. But they have drawn their last two, which in the league can really affect your standing.

First there was the 2-2 draw at home to Valencia and that was followed up by a disappointing 0-0 result away to Athletic Bilbao, where the team including Lionel Messi gave a listless display. That same weekend Real Madrid had just beaten rivals Atletico Madrid in their classic derby by 3-1 which has made all the difference to the league standings. And of course it has been 3 games in total without a win for Barca who also drew 1-1 in their Copa del Rey match with Real Madrid.

The league then is all to play for, even Atletico have a chance as they are just a point behind Real. After that there is no chance for the others. But can Barcelona hold their nerve in what was supposed to be a write off season for Real, who now has a second wind?

Well let’s be honest and say that Barcelona are still in the driving seat. They have the most points, have scored the most goals and have conceded just 23 all season. They are still the team to beat but not many people thought that it would end up being this hard, and they have made heavy weather of it somewhat.

Next weekend they will play 15th place Valladolid at Nou Camp and will be massive favourites to beat a team who have won just 3 games on the road all season and won none of their last four matches away from home. Meanwhile Real Madrid will be trying to keep up the chase when they take on Girona at home, both will be expected to win and one could well think that this league could go down to the last couple of matches. Watch this space.

Florentino Perez listens to players and appoints Santiago Solari as Real Madrid coach

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Santiago Solari was named as the new Real Madrid manager this week, and the news will be a relief for the players.Solari has signed a 3 year contract with his former club and has also fought off stiff competition to land the job. Both Antonio Conte and Roberto Martinez were in the running to take over from the sacked Julen Lopetegui but Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has given the chance to Solari. So what gives and why did Perez not go for more experience?

The truth is that the players especially Sergio Ramos had voiced their disagreement in landing Conte as manager. His quote earlier this month that you have to earn respect to achieve it in regards of Conte being drafted in didn’t sit too well. Ramos and other influential players didn’t like the thought of Conte taking over the hot seat, and yes player power is evident once again. But whilst in the past Perez would have brushed off such antics, he listened and talks broke down.

There was also talk of bringing in former Everton manager Roberto Martinez, who would not have got a look in if still at the Premier League side. But his reputation has mostly been built on this summers World Cup, where his Belgian side reached the semi finals before losing narrowly against France who would eventually go on to win the trophy. There was a feeling that the players were more happier to receive Martinez than Perez was. However with Conte out of the picture, both Perez and the players broke even and Martinez was also ruled out. This left Solari who had been moved up from youth coach as a temporary figure head until the club could find someone.

However sometimes the answer or in Madrid’s case remedy is staring you in the face and Solari an ex player who has the respect of the current squad was given the job full time. With new managerial talks hitting a dead end, Perez also had the laws of the Spanish FA bearing down on him, given that clubs cannot have a caretaker manager for more than two weeks. In one way Solari has the job through default but in another perhaps he has earned it.

Since taking over from the ill fated Lopetegui, Solari has presided over 4 games and the club have won all 4. In his youth management Solari only managed a win rate of 37%, but he has got off to the best possible start with Madrid. The one important factor is that the players are their happiest they have been all season, that as Solari knows only to well can go a long way.

Real Madrid are still recovering from the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, and this season was always going to be a transitiona one. But perhaps Solari can add the reignited spark that Los Blanco’s so ever need.

Euro Fantasy League Podcast – #26 – Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha remembered

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Jamie and Dave are back with October’s edition of the Euro Fantasy League Podcast! In this episode the lads kick things off by remembering Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, wishing luck to Glenn Hoddle and discussing some of the issues from the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A over the last month. Gareth Bale, Lionel Messi, Jose Mourinho, Mauricio Pochettino and more are discussed. Continue reading

Should Real Madrid focus on the short or long term after Julen Lopetegui?

139 days. 14 games. That’s all Julen Lopetegui lasted as manager of Real Madrid following his dismissal on Monday. His reign seemed doomed from the very moment it started, such was the controversy around his arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu. Few believed he would last long in the Spanish capital and so it proved.

Now, Real Madrid are charged with finding a replacement. Antonio Conte had been considered the frontrunner, but now it seems that the Italian has ruled himself out of the running for the vacancy. Jose Mourinho is another who has been mentioned, but the Portuguese is tied to a lucrative contract at Manchester United.

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There is a real lack of potential candidates, hence why B team coach Santiago Solari has been promoted to the position for the time being. Once the most desirable job in management, now Real Madrid is seen to be such a poisoned chalice it is scaring coaches away.

Conte would be a short-term fix, but an effective one given his track record at getting the best out of ageing stars and big egos. He entered a similar situation at Chelsea, tasked with cleaning up after Mourinho, and he did that by winning the title in his first season in the Premier League.

Others, like Mauricio Pochettino, would be an appointment with the long-term in mind. Real Madrid are now faced with this existential question – do they prioritise the short-term over the long-term? Would someone like Pochettino be given the time to get across his ideas and methods as a coach?

This is a Real Madrid side coming to the end of a glorious generation, with players like Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and even Sergio Ramos entering the twilight of their careers. And so if they are to stay at the top of the European and Spanish game, a transition must be managed.

Lopetegui failed to do this, as demonstrated by the performance of his big names in the 5-1 thumping at the hands of Barcelona on Sunday. The next guy in the job, whoever that may be, must handle it better, somehow striking a balance between eking more out of players like Benzema, Modric and Ramos while planning for the future.

Of course, no single managerial appointment will be enough to address the problems that exist at the Santiago Bernabeu right now. Real Madrid are struggling to fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, with the European champions lacking an identity as a team right now. Lopetegui wanted his side to be a possession-based outfit, but abandoned that idea after just a few weeks.

Real Madrid are a club who now find themselves stuck between the short-term and the long-term, between the old and the young, and now between managers. As long as they’re in that position, they’re standing still.

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Real Madrid edge closer to Conte appointment

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Real Madrid are set to announce Antonio Conte as their new boss in the coming days, in the wake of their 5-1 La Liga thrashing away at Barcelona last weekend.

That defeat at the Camp Nou is likely to be the death knell for Julen Lopetegui as manager of the 2017-18 Champions League winners, with his departure in the offing.

Club President Florentino Perez, famous for his ruthlessness and lack of patience with managers, is set to confirm Lopetegui’s departure before the end of the week.

Continue reading

Should Rafa Benitez be given a second chance at Real Madrid?

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Julen Lopetegui’s job isn’t just on the line at Real Madrid, it’s basically over it after he saw his team destroyed in El Clasico by Barcelona 5-1. This has left the European champions in 9th place, so bad is this position for the club that you almost have to glance twice at the tables.

Real have now lost 40% of their games and are 7 points behind leaders Barcelona who won 5-1 without Lionel Messi who is injured. The pressure was already under Lopetegui before the game and this result will surely end his job. Club president Florentino Perez has continued to take no prisoners when he sees his team hit a bad run of form, and Madrid’s display only underlined why Zinedine Zidane decided to leave in the summer, it was absolutely perfect timing.

As for Lopetegui, if he does, as expected, get the chop he’s in no mans land. In charge of the national team, Spain he went over 20 games unbeaten but after his ill timed move to Real Madrid before the World Cup, it has all gone wrong for him, and the gamble has massively backfired. In truth Lopetegui is a good manager, but he won’t be given the time to change things around for the club.

Rumours have already surfaced that assistant coach and former player Santiago Solari will take over, but that could just be in a temporary role. Real Madrid will be looking in earnest for a new permanent manager, but who should that be?

One name that comes to mind is Rafa Benitez. Benitez of course was given the job a few seasons ago and lasted just 7 months in the hot seat. He had lost just 3 games but Perez fired Benitez for three reasons: The first was that the defeats had become significant against their title rivals. The second was that he didn’t have a grip of the dressing room and the third led to a huge error where Madrid were ejected from the Copa del Rey after they played an ineligible player. It was, to put it mildly a bit of a circus.

But some credit needs to go to Benitez- a very decent manager. He took over at Championship side Newcastle United, then got them promoted to the Premier League and then received no backing from the chairman. Newcastle look destined for a relegation dog fight this season and if Madrid come knocking for Benitez surely he would go.

Benitez loves the club and his career has swarmed in and around Real. He has tons of experience in Spain, notably with Valencia. He could be the calm that the team need in the heat of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure which has surely rocked the club. Other coaches will be amongst the favourites to be the next Madrid manager, but perhaps the right choice is staring Perez in the face.

 

 

Julen Lopetegui’s disastrous 2018 hits new low at Real Madrid

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After 481 minutes, Real Madrid’s goalscoring drought finally came to an end. Marcelo’s strike against Levante was too little too late not just as Madrid ultimately still fell to a shock 2-1 home defeat but the club record for a lack of goals was surpassed by 16 minutes.

Furthermore, the defeat confirmed Los Blancos were on their worst run of form since May 2009 when they lost their final five league games under Juande Ramos. Then, the boss was toast and current incumbent Julen Lopetegui is in danger of suffering a similar fate. Continue reading

Julen Lopetegui’s Real Madrid under intense pressure to beat Barcelona next week

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Real Madrid’s latest loss, a 2-1 defeat at home against Levante means the club have now gone 5 games without a win in all competitions, a stat that is almost alien to the famed club. The fixture list hardly gets any easier as Madrid will face a Champions League tie against Viktoria Plzen at home which they are expected to win, and then face the grandest of matches against Barcelona.

Unless that match ends in a draw, something will have to give next weekend. Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui is under extreme pressure with Madrid who have started the season poorly. First losing out on the Super Cup to Atletico Madrid by 4-2 and then losing 3 games already in the league. Only the fact that Barcelona had a few problems of their own in recent weeks means that they are still in touching distance and 4 points from them. But their league position of 4th place seems odd and disjointed for Los Blancos.

In truth Lopetegui should be given 18 months with Real to implement his system and ideas and to get to grips with losing one of the greatest players in the history of football in Cristiano Ronaldo. But football doesn’t do time and Lopetegui could be sacked next weekend if Real lose to Barca. This will almost be a certainty if it ends in heavy defeat for them. But maybe there is a shining light for Madrid after all.

That glimmer of hope has come under unfortunate circumstances though as Lionel Messi will be ruled out of the game with a fractured arm. The match will have a level playing field and for the first time in a decade no Ronaldo or Messi to weave their skills and influence the game.

But staring down at Lopetegui and Madrid is the fact that Barcelona have not lost a league game at Camp Nou for over 2 years- that is an incredible record that Madrid of course will be motivated for to break it.

But then again are the players playing for Lopetegui? Is there a rift in the dressing room? Or is Madrid’s form simply down to the fact that so much has changed for them with Ronaldo joining Juventus and Zinedine Zidane leaving his coaching role? If they are playing for the new manager this should be evident next weekend, where a win will guarantee his job for a few more weeks and may well calm the waters. After all there is no better feeling for Madrid’s president Florentino Perez than beating the old enemy.

 

 

El Clasico will have no Messi, no Ronaldo as TV faces huge challenge

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We already knew, of course, that Cristiano Ronaldo would not be competing in El Clasico the match up between Barcelona and Real Madrid after his summer move to Juventus. But now Lionel Messi, the greatest player of his generation has been ruled out of the clash after fracturing his arm against Sevilla.

First it was the fans to gasp when Messi went down in pain, then it was the stats people, pundits followed and it quickly became known that Barcelona’s next game in the league is against Real Madrid, the super tie in world football. Next it was the television guys to cry. Still reeling that Real Madrid can only serve up Gareth Bale as a game changer, now they have lost Messi. Of course Bale is a superb player, arguably the greatest British player of all time and certainly of a generation, but still he’s not next level, which is shared by Ronaldo and Messi.

The news that Messi will miss 3 weeks which most probably will only be two just sets a huge damp squib of epic proportions on next weeks game. TV will certainly lose viewing figures though they are set to still have their highest of the season so far, they will be working overtime to create ads and promos and try to lure in more viewers, but that’s hard when the main ingredients are not there.

For hardcore fans of Spanish football though this game could be very interesting. Some will believe that the playing field will be level now and Real Madrid losing again at the weekend has put huge pressure on them and coach Julen Lopetegui who has got off to a nightmare start with the Champions League champions. His job is reported to be on the line after just 4 months in charge and a defeat against Barcelona could signal the end of his short tenure.

But back to the fans, the viewing ones at least who will still feel some excitement here given that they could be glimpsing a little into the future with no Messi in the team in such a high profile match, because of course only injury would otherwise keep him out.

For the ones that will be travelling far and wide to come here for a match that can cost upwards of 500 euros to witness live it’s a c’est la vie moment. What is undeniably true and can’t be ignored is that this game has had the shine taken off it.

Can Julen Lopetegui survive at Real Madrid?

Four games, three defeats, one draw and not a single goal scored – the past few weeks have been chastening for Real Madrid. Their solid start to the season has crumbled away over the course of late September and October with new manager Julen Lopetegui bearing the brunt of the criticism.

His appointment was a strange one from the very beginning, from the way he was fired as Spain manager on the eve of the World Cup to his lack of credentials for such a high-profile club job. Loptegui did a good job as Spain manager, but he hadn’t even coached at a major tournament when Real Madrid he was their man to succeed Zinedine Zidane. His only senior club experience came at Porto, where he enjoyed mixed success.

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Lopetegui’s lack of pedigree always made it likely that he would become a target in times of trouble for Real Madrid, and so it has proved just a few weeks into the new season. Antonio Conte, Santiago Solari and Max Allegri have all been linked with the post in recent weeks as Lopetegui faces his critics, of which the number is growing with every passing game.

This doesn’t bode well for the 52-year-old. It can be difficult, sometimes impossible, for managers to escape this sort of toxic vortex. The only saving grace for Lopetegui comes in the circumstances of Real Madrid’s poor start to the season – Barcelona have suffered in a similar way, with Real just two points off the top of the La Liga table after eight games.

There is still certainly time for Lopetegui to turn things around at the Santiago Bernabeu, but there is a sense that he will never escape the scrutiny that has dogged his first few weeks and months in the job. Rafael Benitez knows how he feels. He too was never truly accepted at Real Madrid and was sacked just a few months after being appointed.

In a sense, it feels like Lopetegui is a managerial Keylor Navas. Navas was for years Real Madrid’s number one, a key figure as the club enjoyed unprecedented success in the Champions League. He won everything and was widely considered one of the very best in the game. But because he wasn’t a big name, big money signing Navas was always the subject of speculation. Eventually, he was replaced by Thibaut Courtois this summer, despite many arguing the Costa Rican to be the better goalkeeper.

Even if Lopetegui finds a way to reverse his current fortunes, he could suffer a similar fate. He isn’t a big name manager in the way Conte or Allegri is. He isn’t the most natural of fits at Real Madrid and it might not be long before the club looks to find someone who is. Results might not even matter that much.

How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best Spanish Fantasy Managers? Play www.liga-fantasy.com now.