Football: Real 'have no choice but to stand up'

Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui attends a training session at the Ciudad Real Madrid training facility in Valdebebas on the eve of the Spanish League Clasico football match between Real and FC Barcelona.
Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui attends a training session at the Ciudad Real Madrid training facility in Valdebebas on the eve of the Spanish League Clasico football match between Real and FC Barcelona.PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA • It was the "happiest day" of Julen Lopetegui's life when he was named Real Madrid coach but, 4 1/2 months later, today's Clasico at Barcelona could turn out to be his nadir.

If Real president Florentino Perez's mind is already made up, with former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte and B team coach Santiago Solari reportedly in the frame, then his short-lived tenure will likely end after 10 LaLiga games. Even a positive result may only be a stay of execution for Lopetegui.

Also at stake at the Nou Camp is the personal pride of his players.

Real's Toni Kroos knows all too well that form generally goes out of the window when it comes to the Clasico, the first time since December 2007 that neither Lionel Messi, who is injured, nor Cristiano Ronaldo, sold to Juventus in the summer, will be on the field.

He said: "It's a great game for us in this moment because we have no choice but to stand up. We have to show how good we are against a difficult opponent. We can do it."

Lopetegui's men will, however, breathe a sigh of relief that they do not have to face Barcelona talisman Messi, who has scored 25 goals in 37 games against Real. The forward would have relished taking on the European champions, who are enduring their worst start to a league campaign since 2001.

But, in his absence, Kroos wants his teammates to capitalise as a positive result against Barcelona could galvanise their spluttering season.

"The confidence is not a problem. We have many champions in the World Cup and the Champions League, and we have shown we can turn around tough situations," added the midfielder.

"We are creating, we are doing everything we can to get good results and that proves we are behind the coach. He is a very good coach and I'm confident we can turn this around with him."

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde is wary that Real will be like a "wounded animal".

"Madrid will be even more dangerous," the Spaniard, who knows that his side can open up a seven-point gap over Real with a win or see their lead slashed to one point, said ahead of their home league game.

The Clasico will either be a chance for a Lopetegui revival or, the perfect start for his successor.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 28, 2018, with the headline 'Real 'have no choice but to stand up''. Print Edition | Subscribe