Real Madrid coach Julen Loptegui was left in a precarious position when his team went without a win for three La Liga matches, leaving the club eighth in the standings after nine matches. And Sunday’s El Clasico in Camp Nou could be his last straw, according to former Real Madrid midfielder Steve McManaman.
“It [El Clasico] is a pivotal game, if Real win tonight, I think there is chance of survival [for Lopetegui] until there is further trouble. But if he loses the game tonight, he could lose his job,” McManaman told Sportstar.
Players like Nacho, Marcelo and Isco have come out in defence of their manager, but McManaman thinks they wont be able to stop club president Florentino Perez if he wishes to sack Lopetegui.
“The players are very powerful, but if the president decides to do something, he will do whatever he wants to do,” said Manaman, who played for the Spanish giants from 1999-2003.
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Former Chelsea coach Antonio Conte and Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino are rumoured to be in contention to replace Lopetegui, but the Englishman thinks Real’s options are limited.
“Real Madrid seem to be very interested in Mauricio Pochettino, but it is difficult to get him because he is the manager of Tottenham now. With Antonio Conte, his style of play is not compatible with Real Madrid’s style of play,” he said.
The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus has left Real’s attack struggling to score goals, setting a record for the club’s longest goal drought of 481 minutes. McManaman believes that the current managerial crisis is preventing the club from signing quality replacements for the Portuguese.
“No one in the current team can replace Cristiano. No one can score goals like he does. People talk about Bale scoring goals, but he is injured mostly. If you have to bring in players from outside, it could be Eden Hazard or Kylian Mbappe or Harry Kane. But with the managerial situation, it is near impossible to bring top players to the club,” the former Liverpool man said.
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The number of home-grown players in Barcelona's senior squad has come down in the past three seasons. With the exception of Sergi Roberto, Rafinha Alcantara and Munir El Haddadi have been struggling to get starting berths in Ernesto Valverde’s team. Meanwhile, Real’s youth graduates Marco Asensio, Lucas Vasquez and Nacho have played a vital role in winning three Champions League titles.
However, the number of home grown players in the senior team will not affect the style of play for either teams, according to McManaman.
“I don’t think it will affect their game at all. As long as there are good players in their academy, they will keep them bringing to the first team. And both clubs [Real and Barca] have the finances to bring players from outside. That’s how it has always been,” he said.
Real Madrid's poor form and clubs like Alaves, Espanyol and Sevilla exceeding expectations has made La Liga hard to predict this season. However, McManaman believes that superior personnel and finances of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Ateltico Madrid will see them finish at the top.
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“Unfortunately, the bigger teams will win the league because they have stronger squads, bigger finances and top quality. It is brilliant to see how the other teams have been doing. Sevilla has been at the top, Villareal, Espanyol, Alaves are doing really well. But at the end of the season, I see Barcelona winning the league,” he said.
McManaman, who scored a decisive last-minute goal against Barcelona in the 2002 Champions League semi-final, described the experience of playing in Camp Nou as fantastic.
“It has always been choatic, it is exciting and everybody talks about it from weeks before the match because it means so much to them. With hundreds of people in the Camp Nou, it is very frenetic, it is very volatile. It is always fantastic to be a part of the game,” he said.
The two-time Champions League winner with Real predicts Barcelona, despite the absence of Lionel Messi, will fare better than Real Madrid on Sunday.
“Barcelona will win this Clasico 3-1, considering they have the better form,” McManaman said.
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