Real boss must sort things out fast

Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane and forward Karim Benzema warming up before their Champions League opener against Roma in Madrid last month. While Varane is set to keep his spot, Benzema's five-game dry spell means he may be replaced by new boy M
Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane and forward Karim Benzema warming up before their Champions League opener against Roma in Madrid last month. While Varane is set to keep his spot, Benzema's five-game dry spell means he may be replaced by new boy Mariano Diaz.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Position switches needed amid form slump, injuries as pressure piles up on Lopetegui

MADRID • Julen Lopetegui is beginning to find out just how hard things can be under the Real Madrid microscope, especially when his predecessor Zinedine Zidane can boast of winning the Champions League three times in a row.

While they are joint-top on 14 points with Barcelona in LaLiga, grumblings are beginning to emanate from the Bernabeu faithful after Real's last two league outings - a 3-0 loss to Sevilla followed by Saturday's 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid.

Rumours flew over the weekend after Spanish daily Marca reported that Real president Florentino Perez had met Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino at last week's Best Fifa Awards ceremony.

Lopetegui was also forced to defend Real's poor run of form over the weekend, insisting that "the team's game, with the exception of the first half at Sevilla, is "good" and "the goals will come".

But the European champions have scored just one goal in their last three games and, to make matters worse ahead of today's Champions League trip to Russia to face CSKA Moscow, Lopetegui is dealing with a raft of injury problems after Gareth Bale, Isco and Marcelo were all left out of the travelling squad.

"Bale had discomfort in his abductor, Isco had appendicitis, which is a shame, and we hope that Marcelo is back in a few weeks," the former Spain boss said. "It's not good that we've got injuries and we will look for solutions."

Captain Sergio Ramos has also been omitted, presumably to allow him to rest, having played every minute of Real's matches this campaign and Lopetegui has some tough choices to make in the quartet's absence.

Nacho Fernandez is expected to continue at left-back to cover for Marcelo, while either Jesus Vallejo or rookie Sergio Reguilon will partner Rafael Varane in the heart of the Madrid defence.

There could also be a maiden Champions League outing for defender Alvaro Odriozola, a €35 million (S$55.7 million) close-season transfer from Real Sociedad.

The Real manager will also have to decide whether to give Dani Ceballos a place in his starting XI and hand summer signing Mariano Diaz his first start of the term with Karim Benzema's recent goal drought a concern.

The French striker has now gone five straight games in all competitions without scoring.

With several of their big-name players missing, Luka Modric is expected to step up on his first return to the Luzhniki Stadium - the scene of Croatia's World Cup final defeat by France.

Fresh from being named Fifa's Best Player of the Year last week, the Golden Ball winner, who for the first time in his six seasons at Real will line up for a Champions League tie without the departed Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale, will have to play a leadership role in the Russian capital as the club's elder statesman.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2018, with the headline 'Real boss must sort things out fast'. Print Edition | Subscribe