Conte lined up at Real Madrid with Lopetegui on the brink

Real Madrid directors are set to meet on Monday afternoon, when Julen Lopetegui's sacking could be confirmed.

Former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has been tipped to replace Julen Loptegui at Real Madrid.   -  AP

Julen Lopetegui's brief and inglorious reign as Real Madrid coach could come to an end on Monday with the defending European champion tipped to appoint Antonio Conte as his replacement. Madrid was thrashed 5-1 by great rival Barcelona on Sunday as Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick, almost surely sealing Lopetegui's fate.

According to Spanish media, Real directors are set to meet later on Monday afternoon, when Lopetegui's sacking could be confirmed. He was named coach only 139 days ago, with his decision to accept the post costing him the chance to lead Spain at the World Cup.

Madrid's dreadful recent run showed no sign of abating at the Camp Nou. It has now managed one win in its last seven matches, sits ninth in La Liga and earlier this month went more than eight hours without a goal. Sports daily AS called the defeat a “lethal rout” on its front page on Monday, and it is a far cry from Sergio Ramos hoisting a third consecutive Champions League trophy in May.

READ | Lopetegui confident he can turn Real Madrid's fortunes around

After Sunday's game, Ramos pointedly stated that managing the dressing room at Real is more important than technical knowledge. Some now believe, perhaps club president Florentino Perez included, that the team needs a firmer hand.

Zinedine Zidane and Lopetegui have both been keen to afford freedom to the players while Conte is seen as a demanding coach, meticulous in his tactical preparation and unrelenting when it comes to defensive organisation.

“I've always had a good relationship with all the coaches,” Ramos said. “Respect is earned, it isn't imposed. Those are the coaches with whom we've won titles. Managing the dressing room is more important than the knowledge of a coach.”

ALSO READ | Real Madrid players cannot stop Perez from sacking Lopetegui, says McManaman

The finger of blame is not only being pointed at Lopetegui, with Perez also being criticised for his failure to sign a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo after the Portuguese superstar departed for Juventus.

Julen Lopetegui's brief and inglorious reign as Real Madrid coach could come to an end following a 5-1 defeat to rival Barcelona on Sunday.   -  Getty Images

 

Fractious

Conte is available after being sacked by Chelsea in July. He had led it to the Premier League title in 2017 in his first season, when a switch to a three-man defence was hailed as a brilliant, and decisive, strategic move. But it finished fifth in his second year, when the Italian grew increasingly agitated and fractious. He criticised the club's transfer policy and fell out with Diego Costa, who was eventually sold to Atletico Madrid.

Conte would be taking over a Madrid team which is now seven points behind Barcelona, which returned to the top of the table after its emphatic win. Ramos insisted, though, the title is not lost yet.

“There are people that would believe, others that wouldn't,” Ramos said. “I have won La Liga from 10 points behind. The key to success is to work. Madrid never gives up when it can turn the situation around.”

ALSO READ | No Real Madrid contact with Conte

All the failures that have underlined its problems under Lopetegui were on show in the Clasico: poor finishing, frantic defending and key players performing well below par, let alone at their best.

Lopetegui pointed to misfortune too, as Luka Modric hit the post at 2-1, while Suarez's second came from a penalty, awarded only after consultation with the Video Assistant Referee.

“We feel we could have turned the game around, we had chances to equalise, and go on and win,” Lopetegui said. “But it did not happen, and there was more bad luck, more injuries, and the third goal killed our hopes. The punishment was excessive, 5-1 does not reflect the game.”

Madrid midfielder Casemiro was less generous. “What we have shown today is what we have shown all season,” said the Brazilian. “We have to run more, stand up more, fight more. We have played well in spells, and today we started the second half well but that is this season. We are a disaster, all playing very badly, all of us.”