Real Madrid: Why Solari's well placed to stay on as coach
In his fortnight in charge of the Real Madrid first team, the Argentine has won over the dressing room, got the right results, embraced youth...
Santi Solari continues to stake his claim to have his tenure as Real Madrid head coach extended. The Argentine has now been in caretaker charge of the first team for two weeks and goes into his fourth match at the helm, away to Celta Vigo this weekend, full of confidence after meeting all his objectives so far.
Following Sunday's clash at Balaídos, Madrid will have to make a decision on Solari's future, as Spanish Football Federation rules stipulate that clubs can only employ coaches in an interim capacity for a maximum of two weeks - a period that ends on Monday. As that deadline approaches, there can be little doubting that he is now well placed to stay on.
We look at four reasons why:
Impact on the dressing room
Since he took over from the sacked Julen Lopetegui last week, praise for Solari has come thick and fast from the members of the dressing room. After each of the three games he has overseen, the 42-year-old has received nods from players of every profile, from promising youngsters to squad heavyweights to recent arrivals.
One of the first to make his feelings known was Thibaut Courtois, who acknowledged last week that, under Solari, there are good vibes once more at Valdebebas: "The happiness has returned to training. We're training really well with him." Most recently, meanwhile, key figures Karim Benzema and Casemiro both spoke positively about Solari after the 5-0 Champions League win over Viktoria Plzen. "Solari should stay on until the end of the season," said Benzema, while Casemiro added: "If things go well, why not give him the opportunity?"
Perhaps most notable were the words of Dani Ceballos, a player who under Lopetegui had taken a step forward from the fringes - but who nonetheless had no hesitation in admitting that the situation at the Bernabéu has improved since Solari took over. "Morale-wise, we were very low," the young Spanish midfielder said, "and he has turned it around. We're really happy with him."
The team's results
Melilla, Real Valladolid and Plzen. Those are the three sides Madrid have beaten with Solari in the dugout. None can be described as big-name opposition, and it's not as if Los Blancos have comprehensively dazzled, either; however, the results still serve to back up the job Solari has done, with the interim boss' overall record reading: three wins out of three - two by wide margins - with a total of 11 goals for and none against. Madrid's attacking cutting edge has improved significantly.
Without getting the team back playing their best football, what Solari has done is bring a halt to the downward spiral the side had found itself in. Having acquired a habit of conceding all to regularly in recent times, the European champions have now put together a run of three straight clean sheets for the first time since November last year. Celta will put their new-found solidity firmly to the test.
Ability to keep Pérez on side
Another of the areas where Solari has shown good managerial acumen is in giving game time to players who were bought this summer and of whom much is expected by the club's hierarchy. Despite being Florentino Pérez's big-money signing for the Madrid goal, for example, Courtois had by no means positioned himself absolutely front and centre in Lopetegui's thinking thus far. However, Solari has given the Belgian a vote of confidence by picking him in LaLiga and, even though Keylor Navas had so far played in Europe, the Champions League, too; meanwhile, the Costa Rican has had to settle for a start in the least significant game of Solari's tenure, the Copa del Rey clash at Melilla.
Vinicius is another name that Solari has placed his faith in since being appointed. Lopetegui had relegated the 18-year-old to playing under the Argentine for Castilla, Madrid's 'B' team, but in recent weeks the starlet has made great strides, earning a full debut in the Copa, scoring his first goal for Los Merengues in LaLiga and making a maiden Champions League appearance in Plzen, where he provided an assist. Vinicius is a source of excitement for Madrid fans in these tricky times, and Solari knows it.
Willingness to turn to youth
Solari has also drawn on his knowledge of the talent in the Castilla squad to draft in reinforcements. Faced by a spate of injuries in defence - with Marcelo, Dani Carvajal, Jesús Vallejo and Raphael Varane all suffering problems - he has had no hesitation in turning to the likes of Javi Sánchez, not only giving him his debut in the Copa (a stage on which academy graduates are regularly handed their bow) but also keeping his faith in him in the LaLiga game against Valladolid that followed. Special mention should also go to Cristo González, the starting striker in Solari's Castilla team, who responded in style to being given his first senior run-out in Melilla, scoring Los Blancos' fourth and final goal.
The younger members of the first-team squad have enjoyed better fortunes since Lopetegui's departure, too. Sergio Reguilón has been a revelation in the Madrid team in recent weeks, producing a string of fine displays at left-back, while right-back Álvaro Odriozola has shone in Carvajal's absence.
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