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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

El clasico takeaways: Lights out for Julen Lopetegui, but Real Madrid players have let him down

John McAuley looks at the wreckage at Real Madrid following a 5-1 thrashing to Barcelona at Camp Nou

Lights out for Lopetegui as Conte closes in

Sacked by Spain in June, reportedly soon to be given his books at Real Madrid. Twin parting of the ways, only four months apart. Julen Lopetegui’s position as Madrid manager has for some time been in doubt, but Sunday’s el clasico evisceration seems to have been the final straw. Antonio Conte is said to be waiting in the wings, the former Chelsea manager whose recent relationship with Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard offers intriguing subplots, both current and future. Lopetegui remains a capable manager, but he has inherited a squad that needed freshening and one, crucially, shorn of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goalscoring prowess. Nevertheless, the results make for grim reading: six defeats in 14, with Madrid ninth in the Primera Liga after 10 rounds. Given the demands placed on the 13-time European champions, change feels inevitable; necessary, too.

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Read more:

Ian Hawkey: After the calm of Julen Lopetegui, Real Madrid preparing for the storm of Antonio Conte

Report: Barcelona's Luis Suarez scores hat-trick to deal Real Madrid's Primera Liga title tilt big blow

Ian Hawkey: Zidane exit appears prophetic as pressure piles on Lopetegui

Barcelona v Real Madrid: Five facts you may not know about their history

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With Messi missing, Super Suarez reinforces his pedigree

Criticised throughout much of the past year, Luis Suarez offered the perfect riposte. He stepped into the breach vacated by Lionel Messi's injury. He departed el clasico with a match-winning performance, a hat-trick and the match ball. Suarez celebrated the moment with two of his children present at Camp Nou; he dedicated his opener to his third child, born only five days previously. A marksman masterclass had it all: goals, grit, the ability to galvanise on the grand stage. With the treble, he lifted his clasico record to nine goals in 11 matches, almost double anyone else during that same period. Granted, he has his flaws - a loose touch here, a theatrical fall there. However, in this form, Suarez seems peerless, the finest centre forward in world football.

Gareth Bale has thus far failed to fill the considerable void left by Cristiano Ronaldo's departure. Reuters
Gareth Bale has thus far failed to fill the considerable void left by Cristiano Ronaldo's departure. Reuters

Bale fails to take lead in Ronaldo’s absence

Gareth Bale’s Madrid stats pre-clasico were testament to his talent. The Welshman had made 200 appearances – a telling number considering he joined in 2013 – scoring 92 times and registering 62 assists. He has regularly notched in important matches: the 2014 Copa del Rey final, two of the past four Uefa Champions League finals. With Ronaldo gone, Bale was expected to fill the void somewhat, no matter how unenviable a task that is. The sense was that Sunday represented his first major test of the post-Ronaldo era. The conclusion was that Bale disappointed significantly. Largely peripheral, he was substituted with 15 minutes remaining. Bale had begun the season well, but has now not scored in seven matches. His performance contrasted wildly with Suarez’s. Whereas Ronaldo would often bend these contests to his will, Bale barely left a dent.

Sergio Ramos' poor start to the campaign continued in the 5-1 thrashing against Barcelona. AFP
Sergio Ramos' poor start to the campaign continued in the 5-1 thrashing against Barcelona. AFP

Lopetegui bears brunt, but players have let him down

It is widely accepted that Lopetegui will be shown the door at Madrid. Speculation is rife that he won’t last past Monday night. If he has looked out of his depth at the European champions, his players must take a large portion of the blame as well. Sergio Ramos, the captain, continued his poor season, lacking composure and inviting pressure. Rafael Varane, the French World Cup winner, was hooked at half time because of injury, although his calamitous campaign maintains. Ahead of him, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, two of the world’s finest midfielders, were completely outplayed. Put simply, Madrid's big-game players have not performed anywhere near their level. Ramos declared afterwards that “the management of the players is more important than the technical knowledge of the coach”. That may be, but the players need to look long and hard at themselves.