September 19, 2019 / 12:23 PM / 2 months ago

Zidane looking vulnerable as Real face Lopetegui reunion

(Reuters) - Julen Lopetegui’s coaching reputation was on the line after his short-lived and painful tenure at Real Madrid but he has got off to a flying start in his new role with Sevilla and can serve his former employers a dish of revenge when they visit on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Julen Lopetegui is unveiled as Sevilla's new coach - Seville, Spain - June 5, 2019 Sevilla unveil Julen Lopetegui as their new coach REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File photo

Sevilla top La Liga with 10 points after four games and while Real are also unbeaten and only two points back, they are smarting from a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Paris St Germain in the Champions League which has coach Zinedine Zidane feeling the heat.

Lopetegui knows exactly what it is like to have the finger pointed at you for Real’s failings.

He had the daunting task of inheriting a team that had won three consecutive Champions League titles when he took over after Zidane resigned in 2018 and no sooner had he taken the job, the club sold all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.

Lopetegui had been in the spotlight after being sacked as Spain coach before the 2018 World Cup and despite a strong start at Real his team went on a run of seven games with only one win and he was sacked in October after a 5-1 thrashing at Barcelona.

“We had a good start, the team was playing well but then we had three very bad weeks,” Lopetegui recalled.

“You just hope you have time to find a solution because these things can balance out over a season. We were sure this situation was going to pass. I wasn’t given time.”

Yet Real’s fortunes did not improve after Lopetegui left.

His successor Santiago Solari lasted little more than four months and Zidane’s second coming is not working out well: he has won seven out of 16 games since returning, losing five and drawing four.

A 300-million-euro ($332 million) injection of new signings, including Eden Hazard, was supposed to rejuvenate the team but a mixture of injury problems and Zidane’s preferences have led to him picking a familiar looking side but one lacking the spark of old.

Zidane is under renewed pressure after the resounding defeat to PSG, who were missing their three first-choice forwards, and former Real striker Predrag Mijatovic has blamed the Frenchman for the team’s plight.

“The situation is worrying, the team need to improve in every aspect but I don’t think Zidane is capable of coming up with anything to help them,” he said.

Elsewhere in La Liga, champions Barcelona visit Granada on Saturday and are set to hand Lionel Messi a first start of the season after he recovered from a calf injury, while second-placed Atletico Madrid host Celta Vigo.

($1 = 0.9037 euros)

Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis

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