In the last decade of the Spanish La Liga, the ‘El Clasico’ contest between Real Madrid and Barcelona was a red-letter day for all football fans. It was the contest between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, two of the biggest names in football. The Messi vs Ronaldo contest enthralled fans from all over the world, uplifting the contest from the spectrum of Catalan vs Castillan.
However, the ‘El Clasico’ contest, for the first time since December 2007, will lack that star power. Ronaldo has moved to Juventus from Real Madrid while Messi will not feature for Barcelona due to a broken arm. However, there is still plenty at stake for both teams, more so for Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui.
Lopategui, who took over the team four-and-half months ago, is struggling big time. The team has gone five games without a win, more than eight hours without a goal has been a sorry reflection for a team that recently won the UEFA Champions League.
Real’s chaotic performance has weakened his position, not strengthened it and a win against Barcelona might reportedly not matter if club president Florentino Perez's mind is already made up with regards to his position. According to some reports, Perez wanted to sack Lopetegui after their win over Viktoria Plzen but the club’s Director General Jose Angel Sanchez and other executives calmed him down.
Confident of revival
Despite the slump, Real players are optimistic of a turnaround. Toni Kroos pointed out that it was not a confidence issue with the team.
“We have many champions in the World Cup and the Champions League, and we have shown we can turn around tough situations. Remember that in the last few years, we have not only played good games, there have been bad ones too. 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 in my opinion and I'm confident we can turn this around with him,” Kroos told AFP.
Despite Real Madrid’s poor form, Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde is not taking his opponents lightly. “Madrid will be even more dangerous. They will come here to demonstrate all the strength they have,” Valverde said.
Barcelona currently top the La Liga standings with 18 points while Real Madrid are seventh with 14. A loss could not only signal Lopetegui’s end, but also open up a massive seven-point gap between the two arch-rivals.