Al-Ittihad are in talk to bring former Real Madrid Manger Lopetegui, as the club struggles to win consecutive matches despite having the top talents like Benzema & N’Golo Kanté:
Karim Benzema’s surprising departure from Real Madrid to join Saudi Arabian club Al-Ittihad this past summer has not gone as smoothly as many anticipated. Despite Al-Ittihad acquiring several high-profile players during the transfer window, including Benzema, the team’s on-field performances have been underwhelming.
Al-Ittihad currently sits fifth in the Saudi Pro League standings after 13 matches, having recorded just 6 wins, 4 draws and 3 losses (Transfermarkt). This is well below expectations for a club that has won the league title a record eight times.
According to Goal, Benzema has scored 9 goals and provided 4 assists in his 13 appearances for Al-Ittihad so far. Although these are decent numbers, Benzema’s productivity and impact have not been enough to put Al-Ittihad higher up the league table.
Understand Al-Ittihad are in advanced talks with Julen Lopetegui and optimistic of finalising his appointment. Domingos Soares De Oliveira has played a key role. Lopetegui managed Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.⚫️ pic.twitter.com/6EUU0aBUvP
— Ben Jacobs (@JacobsBen) November 11, 2023
The club’s poor start ultimately led to the dismissal of manager Nuno Espirito Santo last week, after 14 months in charge. This has left Al-Ittihad scrambling to find a new coach who can quickly turn things around.
According to reports from AS and other sources, former Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui has emerged as a top target to replace Santo. Lopetegui spent short and tumultuous four months as manager of Real Madrid in 2018, before being fired following a 5-1 El Clasico loss to Barcelona.
After his Real Madrid disaster, Lopetegui rebuilt his reputation during a successful three-year spell at Sevilla from 2019-2022. He led the club to three top four finishes and a 2020 Europa League title. He is currently without a club.
Al-Ittihad will pay Nuno Espírito Santo $8m in compensation after sacking him.
The Saudi club are in ongoing talks with Julen Lopetegui.
— Transfer News Live (@DeadlineDayLive) November 8, 2023
Most recently, Lopetegui spent just 14 games as manager of Premier League side Wolves this season before leaving the club abruptly in October due to reported disagreements over player recruitment (BBC).
While Lopetegui’s priority is said to be landing a new job in the Premier League, the lucrative contract offer from Al-Ittihad may sway him to take the position. According to journalist Fabrizio Romano, Al-Ittihad is prepared to offer Lopetegui a three-year deal worth around €7 million per season.
Reuniting with former Real Madrid star Karim Benzema is another factor that could attract Lopetegui to the Al-Ittihad job. Lopetegui coached Benzema during his brief time at Real Madrid and clearly has an admiration for the French striker’s talents.
“For me, he is the best #9 in the world. Every day, during our time together at Real Madrid, he demonstrated all of his quality,” Lopetegui told Marca in September 2022.
With the club underperforming, Benzema has put Al-Ittihad on his shoulders at times this season. In 13 matches across all competitions, the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner has scored 12 goals and added 5 assists. However, at age 35, Benzema could certainly use more support.
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Bringing in Lopetegui could provide a spark and help Al-Ittihad maximize Benzema’s abilities. Their past history at Real Madrid and Lopetegui’s praise of Benzema suggests they would work well together again.
While Benzema’s shocking Real Madrid exit was expected to mark the start of an illustrious chapter for Al-Ittihad, the transition has not been smooth thus far. If appointed, Lopetegui will have a tough job of quickly putting his game plan into action and getting Al-Ittihad’s many talented players to work together as a team and reach their full potential.
Lopetegui is known for his tactical versatility and rotating between 4-3-3 and 5-3-2 formations (The Coaches’ Voice). At Sevilla, he showed an ability to blend physical intensity with skillful build-up play from the back. These qualities could benefit Al-Ittihad’s current squad.
However, Lopetegui will also need to improve the team’s defense, which has been letting in too many goals. Al-Ittihad has conceded 18 goals over 13 league games, more than any other team in the top half of the table. Sorting out the backline issues must be a top priority.
There are also questions around how some of Al-Ittihad’s biggest egos would adapt to Lopetegui’s intense, demanding coaching style. Lopetegui is known to drill players relentlessly on the training ground (Marca).
Stars like Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo thrived under this approach at Real Madrid, but it will be interesting to see if other Al-Ittihad players embrace Lopetegui’s methods. Managing a dressing room with clashing personalities will be vital.
If Lopetegui can successfully implement his organized defensive structure and attacking tactics, Al-Ittihad could yet challenge for its first league title since 2009. With Benzema spearheading the attack, a tactical mastermind like Lopetegui could take Al-Ittihad to the next level.
But making a mid-season coaching change is always risky. Should Lopetegui struggle to quickly turn results around, the demanding Al-Ittihad board may show him the same early exit as Espirito Santo.
Karim Benzema’s Real Madrid Career Stats
|UEFA Champions League||133||78|
|Copa del Rey||49||25|
|FIFA Club World Cup||9||4|
|UEFA Super Cup||5||2|
- Ballon d’Or: 2022
- UEFA La Liga Best Player: 2020
- La Liga Player of the Season: 2019-20, 2021-22
- UEFA Player of the Year – Men: 2014
- UEFA Champions League Top Scorer: 2021-22
- Pichichi Trophy: 2020-21, 2021-22