REAL MADRID

Lopetegui first 100 days: how the new Real Madrid is taking shape

Julen Lopetegui arrived at the Santiago Bernabéu on the back of Zinedine Zidane's Champions League triumph, and has already made his mark.

Madrid

Julen Lopetegui was presented as the new Real Madrid manager on 14 July 2018, two days after the announcement that he would be taking up the role, just one day after being relieved of his duties for the Spanish national team.

Since then, he has taken charge of six official games (as well as four friendlies), which has been, on the whole, a very bright period, although has left some doubts at some critical moments. Just as Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have wanted, let's have a look at his first hundred days...

Limited squad use

Of the 24 players that make up the first team, including the Castilla-developing Vinicius, Lopetegui has thrown all the efforts at 15 of them. Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal are the only ones who have played in every minute so far (570, for those counting) and they are followed closely by Toni Kroos (552), Karim Benzema (542) and Marcelo (540). Lucas Vázquez (73) and new signing Mariano Díaz (17) have not seen much pitch time as yet, but their participation is expected to grow rapidly with five games in 15 days the current challenge.

Mariano expecting more pitch time.

Mariano expecting more pitch time.

Little sign of new boys

Madrid 2018-19 saw six new faces: Vinicius, Mariano, Courtois, Odriozola, Reguilón (promoted from Castilla) and Valverde (returning from Deportivo loan). So far, only Courtois (180) and Mariano have been involved. Odriozola came in for 30 million euros and is still waiting for his debut - reports suggest he is on the verge - and 45-million Vinicius has only been called up to the first team squad on two occasions, instead getting a chance to shine for Castilla, three goals in three games catching the eye.

The collective goal

Cristiano Ronaldo's exit sowed doubts in the what the attacking strategy would be. 'How do you replace 50 goals a season?' the constant question. The answer has been to turn the output of a single goalscoring machine into a collective duty. There have already been six different players: Benzema (5), Bale (4), Ramos (3), Isco (2), Carvajal and Mariano (1 each) adding to the overall tally. And that early haul has seen Madrid score more goals this season (16) than they did at the same point in the 2017/18 campaign (13). It's worth noting, however, that their Portuguese star had a slow start last year, firing most of his goals in the second half of the season and also that the team has conceded two more (7 vs 5).

High press, more control

From the start, Lopetegui has insisted on a high press that he believes will improve the defensive performance of Madrid, something that they have achieved so far by a hair's breadth. The team has recovered the ball 61 times per game, just one more than last year, and saves required by the goalkeeper is sitting at 2.5 per match compared with 2.8. The difference may open up as the more games using this style are added. A more significant achievement, though, is us now seeing a more dominating Madrid. They have made an average of 737 passes per game (vs 600 last year) along with 66.7% possession (60% with Zidane). Shots are also up: 14.6 vs 13.8.

Madrid make light work of Roma.

Madrid make light work of Roma.

Two setbacks

The season didn't get off to the best start for Lopetegui. Defeat in the European Super Cup against neighbours Atlético (2-4) raised more doubts to a default position taken by many at the time. Then, as the positivity was slowly building with wins and improved performances, matchday 4 saw the team's first dropped points, a 1-1 draw at San Mamés, which meant falling behind Barça early in the campaign. The comfortable triumph over Roma in the Champions League opener (3-0) was impressive enough to banish most of the doubts from just a few days before and after hosting Espanyol this weekend, more tests await with a trip to Seville and then the Madrid derby all within a week.

Finding midfield magic

So far, Lopetegui has defined his preferred defense and attack (with Bale, Benzema and Asensio, doing the business up front) and it is only really in the middle of the park where he is experimenting. Whether a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2, there has been a switch in combinations of Casemiro, Modric, Kroos, Isco and Ceballos. The message around his goalkeeping choice is still not certain, although he appears to have equal faith in both Keylor and Courtois.

As President Barack Obama famously said ahead of being elected to the White House, "It's probably going to be the first 1,000 days that makes the difference," Lopetegui will know that in his job, he's not going to get anything like that sort of latitude.

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