He was the biggest news in the run-up to the World Cup, and now the next chapter of Julen Lopetegui’s career is about to open, as he tries to bring the La Liga title back to Real Madrid.
Is that a good football bet? A lot depends on the players he brings in and the start he makes, but it’ll be one heck of a ride!
Lopetegui’s swift departure from his post as national team coach, just two days before the World Cup began, fired shockwaves through the football world and sent Spain’s campaign into a chaotic start, which they never really recovered from.
And his predecessor at the Bernabeu, Zinedine Zidane, sent his own waves cascading through European football, quitting as boss just after winning the Champions League. And with Cristiano Ronaldo on his way through the exit door Los Blanco’s fans will expect some good news…and fast.
Julen has big boots to fill, that’s for sure!
What does Julen bring to Los Blancos?
As a player Lopetegui was a pretty good goalkeeper, though not quite good enough for the very top. Managing just one appearance for Real Madrid and five for Barcelona he featured most in La Liga for Rayo Vallecano, making 112 starts.
As a coach his career has been equally modest to date. He has put the long hours in learning his craft as a national coach, at U19, U20 and U21 level before taking over as coach of the World Cup squad for the qualifiers, in which he won nine and drew one game.
His only domestic job was at Porto, where he spent a lot of cash on Spanish players but won nothing, and was relieved of that position in 2016, just before he took over as Spain’s head coach.
So I’d say he has a bit to prove.
What does Julen have to work with?
Well we all know what he doesn’t have to work with don’t we! Cristiano Ronaldo is off to Italy to win more silverware and with that move to Juventus all but complete there is a huge gap to fill.
And if Lopetegui is to fill the trophy cabinet at the Bernabeu he needs a good transfer window, or football betting fans might start to look elsewhere.
Reports say he may also be willing to let Gareth Bale go, with Manchester United once again tracking the Welsh Wizard. Bale has had a stop start career in Spain and has always been in Ronaldo’s shadow, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go.
Neymar and Eden Hazard are both under serious consideration by Real Madrid and either could provide the spark needed to top the table. Hazard has been one of the best players in the EPL for years, with his pace and brilliant feet, while if Neymar can stay on his own two feet and resist the temptation to roll around on the floor every time a gust of wind catches him, he could really be the star of the league.
He isn’t Ronaldo, but he’s seven years younger.
Elsewhere, with Sergio Ramas and Raphael Varane at the back and Toni Kroos and the excellent Luka Modric in the middle, Lopetegui has a hoard of riches at his disposal.
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid
These are the two teams to beat if Lopetegui is to break his domestic managerial duck. Football betting sites have already posted Barca as odds on favourites to repeat last season’s La Liga title. But the best football bets don’t always back the favourites!
With Ronaldo on his way, does that make Lionel Messi indisputably the best player in La Liga? I’d say so, but my question is… whether he can maintain the stratospheric standards he has set over the years without his nemesis Ronaldo breathing down his neck.
Ernesto Valverde’s team won the title at a canter last season, alongside Messi, world cup finalists Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti are among their own Galactico of stars.
Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone has once again worked a miracle to persuade his star striker Antoine Griezmann to stay at the club and, alongside Diego Costa he will be a force to be reckoned with again. But the secret to success at the Wanda Metropolitano is not in how many they score, but how many they don’t concede.
Keeper Jan Oblak is among the best in the world, while Uruguay’s Diego Godin was one of the standout defenders at World Cup 2018, and conceding a mere 22 goals in the league last year kept Atletico above Real Madrid in the final table.
So good luck Julen; you might just need it!
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