Julen Lopetegui wants to reinvent Real Madrid without Ronaldo and that is a task that, besides being titanic, requires time. But at the Bernabeu, the clock moves faster than anywhere else. With just four friendlies in this post-World Cup preseason, the Basque coach has two weeks to put together a team ready to face Atlético Madrid in the Spanish Supercup, in what will be his first competitive match in charge.
The first test of the Lopetegui era hasn’t told us much. With Benzema as captain, little to talk about from Bale and just the youthful exuberance of Vinicius, this new ‘BBV’ has a lot of work ahead to make us forget the ‘C’, whose number 7 shirt, by the way, is yet to have a new owner. Vinicius made his debut wearing number 28, so there aren’t any clues there.
A weakened side
Lopetegui put out the best side he could from the squad that travelled to the Unites States, absent were the World Cup returnees that are still carrying some holiday rust in their legs. Goalkeeper Casilla, who sees his future at the club depend on Courtois, started ahead of new signing Andriy Lunin. In midfield, Ceballos fed the ‘BBV’ trident. With few central defense options, Lopetegui chose Vajello and youth academy graduate Javi Sanchez, with debutant Odriozola and Real Sociedad-bound Theo Hernandez as full backs. A coherent back line that was only hindered by Theo.
The Frenchman didn’t do much to convince Lopetegui against his loan move to Real Sociedad and he showed several lapses of concentration, as he did in the 1-0 defeat to United last year. Darmien and Alexis Sanchez made him pay, with the Chilean scoring the first and Herrera the second. United were 2-0 up without batting an eyelid, but Mourinho must have sensed that the score line had more to do with Real not finding their rhythm than anything to do with his team.
Vinicius’ performance stands out; Benzema’s, half-hearted.
In a half-empty stadium across the Atlantic, it seemed that Real Madrid had yet to recover from the traumatic six weeks following the Champions League final in Kiev, in which they lost their legendary coach and their even bigger star number 7. Vinicius was the only stand out player, with United defender Fossa-Mensah falling victim to his Neymaresque dribbling skills on three occasions.
Benzema clawed one back in injury time of the first half, before Lopetegui rang in the changes at half time that changed the pace and Madrid were another team in the second half. The other young summer signing, Odegaard came on and had a great chance to level it up in the 57th minute but his shot went over the bar. Real Madrid’s performance in the second half is a basis from which Lopetegui can work. With Benzema’s half-hearted performance, all that was missing was a commanding centre forward that could make more of the chances his teammates created.