Julen Lopetegui

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Sevilla confirms appointment of Julen Lopetegui as manager

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Sevilla confirmed the appointment of former Spain and Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui on Tuesday, marking the 52-year-old’s return to management for the first time since his disastrous Los Blancos spell that lasted just 10 league matches.

The Sevilla position is open after a sixth-placed finish in La Liga, failing to pip Getafe on head-to-head results after finishing level on points. Pablo Machin was dismissed in mid-March after suffering through a five-match league winless run and Europa League elimination, with Joaquin Caparros installed as caretaker manager through the end of the season.

Lopetegui’s managerial resume is quite the mixed bag. After earning his first job at then-second division Rayo Vallecano – the club where he spent most of his playing career – in 2003, Lopetegui was fired after just 10 matches in a season that ultimately ended in relegation to the Spanish third tier. He then rose through the Spanish youth team ranks, and by 2014 earned another top tier job with Porto where he reached the Champions League quarterfinals but failed to win any silverware in his two years in charge.

The Spaniard then found himself hired by the Spanish national team to replace the legendary Vicente del Bosque in 2016, and he proceeded to win 14 of his 20 games in charge and not losing once, confirming qualification to the 2018 World Cup as one of the favorites alongside Germany. Just days before the start of the tournament, Lopetegui was dismissed in infamous fashion after Real Madrid announced he would take over after the World Cup, a move which the Spanish national team setup felt as betrayal.

Without the opportunity to lead Spain at a major international tournament, Lopetegui completed the awkward transition to Los Blancos where things turned sour quickly amid a five-match winless run culminating in a 5-1 El Clasico defeat that proved his undoing.

The appointment at Sevilla seems like a make-or-break position for Lopetegui, given his managerial tenure appears less than convincing. Should he fail to challenge for a Champions League place or take them deep in the Europa League, it would be hard to imaging Lopetegui receiving interest for another job after yet another club failure.

Report: USMNT turned down Lopetegui meeting request

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The United States men’s national team has been missing a full-time head coach for a long time, and is set to appoint a boss — probably Gregg Berhalter — within the next week or two.

But Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl dropped a bomb on a weary and leery U.S. fan base after FS1’s broadcast of the USMNT’s 1-0 loss to Italy in Belgium on Tuesday.

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Wahl says that former Spain and Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui recently approached U.S. Soccer about the vacancy, but was told the program was too far along in its process.

From Wahl on SI.com:

U.S. Soccer, the source said, replied that it was too far down the line in its process to entertain the interest of Lopetegui, who was undefeated in 20 matches (14-0-6) across two years as the Spain coach. U.S. Soccer offered no comment when asked for a response.

The report will only add more consternation as Berhalter, well-qualified in his own right, attempts to right the good ship USMNT.

How in the world, at any point in the process, a program like the USMNT refuses the chance to speak to Lopetegui would be hilarious most times, though it certainly is likely very late in the process (which has not been anywhere near transparent).

If Berhalter had been told he was hired, that’s about the only acceptable answer (and even if he was, some would¬†still have wanted the U.S. to say ‘Tough break, Gregg. We owe the process this conversation’).

Also a former Porto boss, Lopetegui led Spain’s U-19 and U-21 sides to EURO titles. He was fired by Real on Oct. 29, which would’ve given the Yanks a chance to reach out to him.

Again, I think Berhalter has everything it takes to be a wildly successful USMNT boss, but this process has not been covered in glory.

Real Madrid officially fires Julen Lopetegui

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Real Madrid chief executive Florentino Perez is not known for his patience with those who struggle at the helm of his club. He tried to hold out as long as he could as Julen Lopetegui looked for a way through the recent darkness, but a dismantling at the hands of a bitter rival forced his hand.

Following a 5-1 defeat to Barcelona in El Clasico over the weekend, Real Madrid finally pulled the trigger and officially sacked manager Julen Lopetegui on Monday after weeks of speculation as the club has fallen further and further into La Liga obscurity. On the heels of three consecutive Champions League titles, Madrid sits in ninth in the La Liga table, with just a single win over its last seven matches across all competitions – a 2-1 victory over Czech club Viktoria Plzen. Madrid suffered through a near-club-record goal drought of over 450 minutes during that span.

The Spanish giants issued a scathing statement to confirm his departure. “The Board of Directors understands that there is a great disproportion between the quality of the staff of Real Madrid – which has 8 players nominated for the next Golden Ball, something unprecedented in the history of the club – and the results obtained to date.”

Taking over on an interim basis is reserve team manager Santiago Solari. Multiple reports across Europe have claimed that the club is targeting Antonio Conte to take over on a permanent basis, as the former Chelsea man has been without a job since departing the Blues this summer.

Lopetegui’s departure is an expensive one for Madrid. Reports state his contract is worth a whopping $20.5 million, a sum the club will have to pay out to honor his deal.

Lopetegui hopes to save the season (and his job) in El Clasico

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Julen Lopetegui heads into his first clasico against fierce rival Barcelona still believing he can succeed as Real Madrid coach.

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Speculation of his imminent firing has been rampant in Spain since Madrid went on a five-game winless streak that included its longest ever scoring drought.

An unconvincing 2-1 win over Viktoria Plzen this week did little to change the mood that Lopetegui is in serious danger of losing his job.

Lopetegui said on Saturday he still hopes to turn around Madrid’s season a day before his team visits Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

When pressed about his future after the match, he said: “I hope I am still breathing, I don’t think I am going to die. Our situation is not irreversible, we are in October.”

Madrid has fallen to eighth place after back-to-back Spanish league losses against Alaves and Levante. Even so, it is only five points behind new leader Atletico Madrid, which won on Saturday.

Blasted in the Spanish media, Lopetegui has so far maintained the public support of players such as captain Sergio Ramos and heavyweights Marcelo and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon.

“They believe in me and I believe in them,” Lopetegui said. “And that goes to show that we are working well and working hard, and have the motivation to please our fans. We are heading (to Barcelona) with the maximum ambition.”

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Madrid hasn’t lost in its last four visits to Barcelona, although those results came under coach Zinedine Zindane and with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the team that he left in the offseason for Juventus.

Barcelona will also be without Lionel Messi, who is mending a broken right forearm.

That will make this clasico the first to be played without either star since 2007.

Barcelona beat Inter Milan 2-0 this week in its first match since Messi’s injury, but despite the strong performance coach Ernesto Valverde rejects the label of favorite against Madrid.

For Valverde, Madrid is even more dangerous when it is desperate for a victory over its top rival.

“We know how Madrid is, the more badly it is hurt, the more dangerous it is,” Valverde said. “The crises in teams like Madrid are always blown out of proportion, and then the players step up. There were moments at the start of the season when Madrid was playing brilliantly.”

Barcelona, which enters the match in second place at one point behind Atletico, will entrust Luis Suarez to lead the attack.

The only question is whether Valverde will give a second straight start to Rafinha after he scored against Inter, or opt to play forward Ousmane Dembele in Messi’s spot.

“We have to be able to play our style, that is the key,” Valverde said. “With or without Messi, that is what earned us the league title last year.”

El Clasico preview: Familiar heroes absent from rivalry

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El Clasico existed before Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane, and Cristiano Ronaldo, and it will exist long after it.

Still, Sunday’s edition is going to be weird.

Four gigantic names are gone from the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry, albeit Messi’s absence is temporary, which resumes this weekend at the Camp Nou.

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Messi and Ronaldo have scored the most and third-most goals in¬†El Clasico¬†history, while Messi has delivered the most assists. Messi’s 38 appearances are third-most, tied with Iniesta and Sergio Ramos.

That last name will be there on Sunday, as will Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez, and Casemiro. So it won’t be a new generation of challengers.

Discounting friendlies between the two, the rivalry remains tight. Real has won 95 of 237 derbies, losing 92 and drawing 50.

Barcelona leads the table, tied on points with Catalan rivals Espanyol and four points clear of Real.

The visitors’ manager, Julen Lopetegui, has found no reprieve from his attack’s struggles following a slim 2-1 defeat of Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League.

Lopetegui, 52, has has one point from his last four La Liga matches, and lost at CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.

That has his seat considerably warm, especially with Real president Florentino Perez seemingly fond of switching things up. But his players reportedly very much have his back, a¬†Marca¬†report claiming,¬†“Few times in¬†Real Madrid’s history have the key members of the squad been so publicly in favor of a coach under pressure.”

The times number just as few when Real will have a such a good chance to strike success in an away El Clasico.