MADRID, Spain, Oct 27 – Julen Lopetegui dismissed concerns that he is on the brink of being sacked as coach of Real Madrid as his team prepare for Sunday’s Clasico against a Barcelona side missing the injured Lionel Messi.
“I hope to still be breathing. I don’t think I am going to die,” Lopetegui replied at a press conference on Saturday to a question about what the future holds for him after the match at the Camp Nou.
“Everyone is 100 percent full of energy and my energies are 100 percent focused on helping the team.”
The 52-year-old is widely believed to be on borrowed time at the Santiago Bernabeu, just four months after his appointment as the successor to Zinedine Zidane.
The pressure is on Lopetegui after Real went on a run of five games without a win, losing four and scoring just one goal in that time.
The sequence was ended in a 2-1 victory against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League in midweek, but the unconvincing performance did little to suggest Lopetegui would stay much longer in the job.
A defeat at the Camp Nou — where Real have not lost on any of their last three visits — would see Madrid fall seven points behind the Catalans after just 10 games.
But the former Spain coach, who played for both Barcelona and Real, was not in the mood for answering constant questions on his future.
“I have 100 percent energy and I am not going to waste even 0.01 percent of that answering that question,” he replied to one journalist.
Barcelona will go clear at the summit with a victory, yet their coach Ernesto Valverde said that Real are “more dangerous when they are wounded”.
“They are now on a bad run, but they also have enough about them to overcome these things, just as we do with the absence of Messi,” added Valverde.
The Argentine is out after suffering a fractured arm against Sevilla last weekend.
However, Lopetegui disputed the comments from his opposite number, responding: “To say that is to assume that Real are hurt. We are only in October.”
“We have done good things which have not always translated into results. Real Madrid will be ready.”
Lopetegui is confident Marcelo will be able to take part after the Brazilian came off with a knock in midweek. Isco’s chances of starting the game are in doubt, however.
Having been denied the chance to lead Spain into the World Cup after being sacked on the eve of the competition for agreeing to take the Real job, Lopetegui is adamant Sunday’s game is the biggest of his managerial career.
He said: “Nothing compares to it. In footballing terms of course it’s a game with huge expectation and it’s the highest level.”
– ‘Flying piglets’ –
The match remains a massive draw worldwide despite it being the first Clasico without either Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo since December 2007.
Eleven years on, the only survivor in either side from that game — won 1-0 by Real at the Camp Nou thanks to a Julio Baptista goal — is Sergio Ramos.
“The Clasico existed before that. The Clasico has always been the Clasico, and there were even flying piglets,” said Valverde, with a reference to a meeting of the sides in 2002, when Barcelona fans threw a pig’s head at Luis Figo, their former idol who had crossed the divide to join Real in 2000.
“There has always been tension.”
As well as Messi, Barcelona are without defensive duo Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen for the game, which kicks off at 6:15pm.
Espanyol missed the chance to go provisionally clear of their city rivals at the top of La Liga after they conceded a late equaliser to draw 1-1 at Valladolid on Friday.
Atletico Madrid can go a point clear at the top if they win at home to Real Sociedad later on Saturday.