Julen Lopetegui insists he can turn Real Madrid’s season around despite a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of rivals Barcelona in El Clasico on Sunday.
A hat-trick from Luis Suarez and goals from Philippe Coutinho and Arturo Vidal condemned Real to a heavy defeat at the Nou Camp and leaves them ninth in LaLiga, seven points behind leaders Barcelona.
Reports in Spain suggest Lopetegui could be sacked by Monday, with former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte seemingly favourite to take over.
Speaking after his side’s fifth defeat in seven competitive games, Lopetegui said in quotes reported by the club’s website: “I’m sad and it’s a tough one, but it’s only October and I have the strength to think that we can turn this around and I have confidence in the group.”
“Little by little the players are finding form and we’ve had a lot of injuries. I can continue to lead this group without a doubt.
“A defeat is always hard and against Barcelona even more so. We had the opportunity to turn it around, creating clear chances to draw and win the game in the second half. In the first they were superior and in the second we changed things and were better.
“The result doesn’t reflect the game, but it’s like that. In the first half we had chances, but the penalty set us back. In the second half we hit the woodwork and had a lot of chances. It wasn’t to be.
“We can only blame ourselves for not having had the ball and not making them run more. With the score at 3-1 the match was effectively over.”
Lopetegui’s future at the Bernabeu was already in doubt before the heavy defeat, but when asked about the manager’s position, Real Madrid director Emilio Butragueno told BeIN Sports: “It’s not the moment to talk about Lopetegui. The match has just finished and it’s a bad night for all.”
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde was understandably delighted with the win and singled out Suarez and Sergi Roberto, who set up two of the Uruguayan’s goals, for special praise.
“We’re very happy for the people, our fans,” Valverde told a post-match press conference. “Now the game is over we can enjoy it. While it’s happening you are too concentrated and tense.
“We totally dominated the game in the first half and they sat back. They surprised us a bit early in the second half, but we also knew how to react and that’s how the final score came about.
“Sergi Roberto is a jewel for us. He knows the Barca style and DNA to perfection. He’s an incredible performer, very dedicated and can play in a number of different positions. He’s a fundamental player for us.
“Luis Suarez? Hard work brings rewards. The hat-trick is a consequence of everything he has been doing. He is always there.”