Everybody is asking when Julen Lopetegui is going to go. There are even memes doing the rounds wondering if the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco will be exhumed from the Valley of the Fallen (a debate that has been raging for years) sooner than the under-fire Madrid manager will exit the Bernabéu, stage left. But I do not think that moment is upon us. On October 28th the first Clásico of the season will be played in Barcelona and it would be ridiculous to change coach now and expose his replacement to failure in Camp Nou. There is an international break now and afterwards two matches at the Bernabéu, against Levante and Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League. We will have to wait and see what the atmosphere in the stadium is like. But at the very least, despite the poor results, Madrid are still in the races in LaLiga, if only thanks to Barcelona’s inability to keep their own feet.
We are witnessing a tight duel at the top of the table, like those of bygone eras, with Sevilla leading going into the Fifa stoppage. Barcelona and Atlético are each one point behind and Madrid, one further back in fourth with Espanyol and Alavés level with Lopetegui’s side on points. It is LaLiga president Javier Tebas’ fondest dream: a strong competition, in which Barcelona and Real Madrid are among the contenders but not alone in a two-horse race. An evenly matched championship equals an entertaining championship, although fans of Barça and Madrid, who have accustomed themselves to being the lords of the Liga manor in recent seasons, may not find it so amusing. The new television deal has levelled the playing field and the ability of the division’s middle classes to be competitive.
Getting back to Lopetegui, his lifeline at the moment is Barcelona. Ernesto Valverde’s side have picked up just three points from the last 12 available but the Barça boss can at least point to an excellent game against Tottenham at Wembley as a counter-balance to Liga form. On Sunday evening in Mestalla is was evident once again that this Barcelona team is Leo Messi and nothing more. Sevilla and Atlético appear to more rounded sides and the positions they occupy in the table are a reflection of that. In truth, it was the hiding Madrid received in Sevilla that knocked them out of kilter and laid bare the reality of how difficult this season is going to prove without Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals. Above all, because it seems that the diplomatically immune Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale remain the same.