BARCELONA (Reuters) - Real Madrid’s players should take the bulk of responsibility for the team’s “disaster” of a season, not under-fire coach Julen Lopetegui, midfielder Casemiro said after the European champions hit a new low with Sunday’s humiliating 5-1 loss at Barcelona.
“We aren’t playing well and we can’t blame the coach, as the players are the ones who have to perform on the pitch,” the Brazilian told reporters following a third consecutive league defeat for Real which looks set to see Lopetegui sacked.
“This result is a reflection of our entire season, which has been a disaster. It’s not about tactics or attitude, it’s everything. The players have to run more and fight more.”
Spanish radio station Onda Cero and newspaper Marca reported after the game that former Chelsea, Juventus and Italy coach Antonio Conte is being lined up to replace Lopetegui, who could be sacked as soon as Monday.
Lopetegui cut a downbeat figure after the game while saying he still believed he and his players could turn their terrible season around.
“I feel sad and so do the players, it’s a very tough blow but I still feel strong, we’re only in October,” said Lopetegui, who was fired as Spain coach on the eve of the World Cup for negotiating his move to Real behind the federation’s back.
“Everything can be reversed in the time we have left in the season and because of the confidence I have in the team. The team still has life for the rest of the season. I still feel strong enough to coach this team.”
Lopetegui also felt the scoreline, Real’s heaviest defeat in a ‘Clasico’ since November 2010, was an unfair reflection of the game.
Real were two goals down at halftime but rallied in the second half and could have found an equaliser after Marcelo pulled a goal back, with Luka Modric striking the inside of the post and Sergio Ramos also going close.
A headed goal from Luis Suarez restored the two-goal margin with 15 minutes to go and another strike from the Uruguayan and a later header from substitute Arturo Vidal completed the rout for Barca, whose fans sang ‘Lopetegui please stay’ at fulltime.
“They were better in the first half without creating many chances but we were much better in the second and had the chance to get back into the game but our misfortune and Suarez’s goal killed off our hopes,” Lopetegui said.
“The result doesn’t reflect the reality of the game but we have to accept it.”
Real captain Sergio Ramos said the players had been given no indication that Lopetegui was about to be fired.
“We are with the coach until death, decisions are taken from above. We have to wait and see, no-one has told us anything now. We have to reflect and keep our heads,” the defender said.
“The players all feel terrible. Today was a key game for us to turn things around but the result condemns us.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ian Chadband