Real coach, skipper calm despite latest loss

MADRID • While Julen Lopetegui has insisted that it is still too early in the season to be questioning his future after Real Madrid suffered a shock 1-0 LaLiga defeat by Alaves on Saturday, he is aware that the knives are being sharpened.

Not that the Alaves fans will care after Manu Garcia's header in the fifth minute of added time for their first victory over Real since 1931 sent the Mendizorrotza Stadium crowd into raptures and prompted a pitch invasion.

For the Santiago Bernabeu faithful, though, this was another body blow, with Real now four games without a victory and four games without a goal - their longest scoring drought since 1985 - and the current malaise is not something the fans can tolerate for long.

To make matters worse, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, their chief attacking threats, were both forced off injured.

Bale had missed the 1-0 Champions League loss to CSKA Moscow last Tuesday with a groin strain, with Lopetegui's gamble on the Wales forward's fitness backfiring.

The Real manager, who was unceremoniously sacked as Spain coach on the eve of the World Cup, had been asked on Friday if he was feeling the strain and the question was again put to him at his post-match press conference.

"It interests you but is not a question that concerns me," he said. "We know what the life of a coach is, especially at Real, but we also know that it is October and you have to keep perspective and stay calm."

The 52-year-old bemoaned his side's injury crisis which has also claimed Isco, Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, and attributed the team's slump in form to this.

Talk of change is perhaps premature but it will only increase if Real do not find fluency soon and, in particular, if Barcelona pull away.

However, Real captain Sergio Ramos has warned the European champions against any knee-jerk reaction, saying it would be "crazy" to sack Lopetegui.

"Other people take decisions like that, but it's never good when there is a change in the coach," the Spain defender told reporters.

"We have to move on because the season is very long and there's a very long way to go. Whoever says Real are dead is always proved wrong in the long term."

He also insisted that the players had to step up and now was not the time to look for scapegoats.

"We are the first people that need to do more to improve and we're trying to do that. It's not fair to point the blame at anyone," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2018, with the headline 'Real coach, skipper calm despite latest loss'. Print Edition | Subscribe