Lopetegui defends record against big teams as derby looms

Julen Lopetegui is the coach of Real Madrid. (AFP pic)

MADRID: Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui was forced today to defend his record in charge of the team in the biggest games as his side prepare for a city derby against Atlético Madrid in La Liga after suffering a 3-0 loss to Sevilla during the week.

Wednesday’s defeat at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium was the first time Real have conceded three goals in the first half since 2003. It followed a 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao, seen as one of the toughest away trips in Spain, and the 4-2 extra time loss to Atlético in the UEFA Super Cup.

Real have won their other five competitive games, however, and are joint-top of La Liga with Barcelona on 13 points, with Atlético two behind them. Lopetegui dismissed the suggestion his side have struggled against top opposition, pointing to the 3-0 win over AS Roma in the Champions League.

“You cannot call the game with Roma a minor game, and I don’t think that’s fair. We are prepared to beat any team, without any doubt,” Lopetegui told a news conference ahead of tomorrow’s game against Atlético.

“I’m happy with how the team is performing. Even though you will always have good and bad moments, I have no doubts about how the team is working or their attitude. We are in a good position in the league and we have made a good start in the Champions League.”

Lopetegui will be without defender Marcelo, whose calf injury left the team playing the final stage of the game at Sevilla with 10 men after using the maximum substitutes, while midfielder Isco is recovering from an appendicitis operation.

Real will also have one day’s fewer rest going into the derby than Atlético, who have bounced back from a poor start to the campaign by recording back-to-back wins over Getafe and Huesca. They have not lost a league game at the Santiago Bernabéu since December 2012.

Lopetegui, however, does not think Real will be suffering from tiredness.

“We cannot look for any excuse; the energy and motivation will ensure we put in a good performance,” he added.

“I expect the game will be balanced, tough and demanding and that my team will be up for the fight. We’re up against a huge rival and of course, I expect my team to put in a huge performance.”