MADRID: Possibly for the last time, Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui was in charge of the team again on Monday.
A day after a demoralizing 5-1 loss to Barcelona, Madrid was back in practice with Lopetegui in command. But a board of directors' meeting later in the day was expected to end the coach's tenure less than three months into the season.
The former Spain coach needed Madrid to succeed against Barcelona on Sunday to have a realistic chance of keeping his job, but he left Camp Nou lamenting the team's fifth loss in seven matches in all competitions.
"We know that results are important for a coach. Let's see what happens in the next few hours," Madrid captain Sergio Ramos said after the game. "We've already said we are 100 percent behind our coach, but these decisions are not made by us and we have to respect them. We have to stay calm and not point fingers at anybody."
Former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was touted as the main candidate to replace Lopetegui, with some Spanish media saying negotiations with the Italian coach were already in advanced stages. Belgium coach Roberto Martinez was also among the front-runners, according to local media.
The firing would cap a horrible few months for Lopetegui and was likely to deal a significant setback to his career. The 52-year-old coach, making his debut with a major club in a top European league, was let go from Spain's national team just before the World Cup for not telling federation officials he had accepted the Madrid job.
If Madrid fires him as expected, Lopetegui will have failed to succeed in two of the most high-profile coaching jobs in the world in less than six months.
"It's still early in the season and I think I have the strength to think we can turn things around," Lopetegui said. "The responsibility ultimately lies with the coach but we win and lose together. I'm certain that better times are ahead for this team."
After doing well with Spain's youth teams, Lopetegui had a lackluster stint with Portuguese club Porto from 2014-16, but he gained prominence after revamping Spain's national team and turning it into a contender entering the World Cup. Lopetegui was hired by Madrid to replace Zinedine Zidane, who quit after leading the club to three straight Champions League titles.
Madrid had a decent start to the season under Lopetegui but things went sour as the team struggled to score goals in its first season without Cristiano Ronaldo in nearly a decade. The team recently reached its worst scoring drought in its history.
In 14 matches with Lopetegui, the Spanish powerhouse won six times, lost six and drew two.
Sunday's rout against Barcelona — which was played without the injured Lionel Messi — left Madrid in ninth place in the Spanish league with 14 points from 10 matches, seven points behind first-place Barcelona. Madrid hasn't won in five straight league matches, with four losses.
The team is tied with Roma at the top of its Champions League group after three matches, and its Copa del Rey campaign begins Wednesday against third-division club Melilla.
Among Madrid's recent losses were a 3-0 defeat at Sevilla and a 2-1 home loss to Levante. The club lost the UEFA Super Cup final to city rival Atletico Madrid in Lopetegui's debut in August.
Madrid was expected to be led by "B'' team coach Santiago Solari if Lopetegui is fired and a substitute is not immediately announced. Solari and Beligum
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