Real Madrid have been a dominant European force, capturing three consecutive UEFA Champions League titles under Zinedine Zidane. The French legend stepped away this summer, and Julen Lopetegui has been selected as the manager to replace him.
The 51-year-old coach was set to begin his new position upon conclusion of the 2018 FIFA World Cup with Spain, but his appointment has set a chain of events into place that has left many fans stunned. Only a day after being announced as the new manager of Los Blancos, the Spanish FA relieved him of his duties with immediate effect.
Sporting Director Fernando Hierro has been named as the new manager for La Roja.
This certainly creates a unique challenge for Lopetegui’s summer timeline, as well as casting a massive shadow of doubt over Spain’s World Cup title chances. However, his focus has now been firmly placed on Real Madrid, and leading a successful side into a new era.
Lopetegui was able to inject new life into the Spanish national team during his two years at the helm, at a moment when the squad desperately needed it.
Disappointing showings at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and at Euro 2016 demanded something different, and the former goalkeeper was able to get the best from his players. Now, he will be tasked with doing the same at the Santiago Bernabéu.
We look at three key objectives for Julen Lopetegui in his first season as manager of Real Madrid.
Rebuild and be ready for Europe
The Champions League is the pinnacle of European football, and nobody else lifts trophies quite like Madrid in the competition (a record 13 to be exact). After the three won by Zidane, Lopetegui definitely has a difficult act to follow. But that should not necessarily be the only priority.
Changes could be arriving in the Spanish capital, with rumours of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale potentially departing. Key players in the line-up such as Sergio Ramos and Luka Modrić are getting older as well, so it will be vital for Lopetegui to identify the talent that can help keep Madrid in the elite of Europe.
Aside from crashing out in the group stage, a positive overall showing in the Champions League is all the club should be looking for in the first term.
Recruit David de Gea
Lopetegui knows many of his new players well, and Isco is one individual who will be looking forward to working with him yet again. He also has a strong relationship with many others, and that could be part of what draws David de Gea to Real Madrid.
Los Merengues have been close to making the move happen before, and this should be the time to officially secure the goalkeeper’s services.
Catch Barcelona in La Liga
Having been both a player and a coach with Real Madrid before, Lopetegui understands fully that Barcelona’s reign at the top of La Liga simply can’t continue. With smart transfers and sharp tactics, the new manager must be able to close the 17-point gap between the two rivals.
Their noisy neighbours, Atlético Madrid, will present challenges as well, but Lopetegui has to return Real to the summit of the Spanish first division. If that does not take place soon, club president Florentino Pérez will not be afraid to make bold decisions regarding his future.