Julen Lopetegui can’t find his starting eleven. In his first 11 games as the manager of Real Madrid, he has never repeated the same starting line-up. The injuries have contributed but the coach’s technical decisions have played a role too, which have come under scrutiny from Florentino Perez. When he had a full squad available, he opted to rotate rather than get his best 11 playing together to sharpen their collective ability.
Up to seven players have suffered injury in the opening weeks of the season: Vallejo, Odriozola, Isco, Marcelo, Carvajal, Bale and Benzema have all missed time to start the season and the losses of Carvajal and Marcelo (three games) has prevented Lopetegui from playing his first-choice defence on a regular basis. These absences have brought Nacho’s versatility to light once again but he can’t play everywhere and Reguilón was asked to debut against Moscow in what was a promising performance. Only four times in 11 games has the Real Madrid manager been able to called on Carvajal, Marcelo, Varane and Ramos.
Isco’s injury was another blow and came at the worse time during one of Real Madrid’s most difficult spells. They collapsed during the five games he has missedand Bale has gone off in the last two games and missed the loss to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.
Rotations both necessary and not
But it’s not simply the injuries that have caused Lopetegui’s inconsitency. In the case of Keylor versus Courtois, the players have switched as regularly as they have played with an almost 50-50 split in gametime – Keylor has played six and Courtois has played five. “Football is not the starting eleven, and in a squad that wants to win everything, everyone is important,” Lopetegui said when asked about the distribution of minutes.
If there is an untouchable player at the moment, it’s Benzema. He is the only Madrid player who has started in every game. The French striker is beating Ramos and Kroos by one games with both of the aforementioned starting in 10. Bale and Asensio have started in nine and they have the confidence of Lopetegui along with Benzema. One of the beneficiaries of the rotations is Ceballos. He has 484 minutes so far this season when he had only played 103 minutes at this point last year.
Modric being eased back into action
With Luka Modric, Lopetegui has a strange and different approach. Physically tired after the World Cup and having cut his vacation short after his exploits in Russia, he is struggling to get back to his best. He has been the starter in six of the last seven games, however, with Lopetegui easing him back to action.
Sometimes, these rotations have left Lopetegui exposed with him being forced to change back to a more natural starting team. Against Athletic Bilbao, he was forced to bring Casemiro on at half-time with Kroos admitting recently that he “is not a Casemiro” as Real Madrid trailed 1-0. He also had to bring Isco off the bench to save a point in that game. Against CSKA Moscow, he left Bale and Ramos at home though and had nobody on the bench to affect change. He brought Modric on having left him out of the starting eleven but he could muster up anything to change the 1-0 scoreline.
Marcelo and Isco should be back after the international break and will give Lopetegui further options with the Camp Nou on the horizon and his job potentially on the line. What he does with those added options remains to be seen.