Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui dodges questions regarding future
Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui has dodged questions over whether he feels supported by the board -- leaving the impression that he is aware his job is on the line ahead of next weekend's La Liga Clasico at Barcelona.
The European champions are without a win or a goal in their last four matches, and there was intense speculation over Lopetegui's future during the international break.
Lopetegui was asked on four separate occasions at a news conference on Friday whether he had received any private assurances from above that his job was safe.
"I am absolutely relaxed and just focused on my work," Lopetegui said. "We are just really looking forward to tomorrow's game. This season is only beginning, nobody knows yet what will happen. We have to show on the pitch what we can do, obviously with some things we can improve."
Ahead of next weekend's trip to the Camp Nou, Madrid face Levante at home in La Liga on Saturday before hosting Viktoria Plzen at the Bernabeu in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Lopetegui accepted that the demands for success at Madrid are "maximum" but pointed out that all teams go through dips in form over a season, and there was still more than enough time for he and his side to come through this one and challenge for all major trophies this season.
"I am feeling fine, this is Real Madrid and the demands are maximum," he said. "There are three points in play tomorrow, which could bring us top of the table, and we must focus on that. We do not focus on outside things, as that will not help us to defeat Levante. There are ups and downs in a season, but we have the ambition and motivation and we must keep on working and keep believing."
Lopetegui was evasive when asked whether any or all of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema or Isco would return from injury for Saturday's game, using the fact that the news conference was taking place before Friday's training session to avoid giving exact fitness updates.
"Some players have had more time to recover and fortunately we have not had any new injuries [during the international break]," he said. "We have more options now. We will see from training, must wait [on Bale] to see how it goes, and make our decision for tomorrow. We are optimistic."
A local reporter tried to interrupt Lopetegui to clarify a question asked about Toni Kroos saying on international duty with Germany that he was "not a Casemiro."
"I understood what you were asking," Lopetegui said. "That Kroos is not Casemiro is obvious, just as Casemiro is not Kroos. They are different players, but Kroos has played many times in this [holding] position, and done marvellously."
Lopetegui was calmer when asked about Bale's injury situation -- with the Wales international having joined up with his national squad last week but returned to the Bernabeu without playing a game due to an as yet not officially confirmed muscle complaint.
"Gareth has been very responsible," Lopetegui said. "He did not play with his national team when maybe he could have forced things. So he has a chance to recover and come back tomorrow."
Lopetegui said that he is unlikely to bring in reinforcements in the winter transfer window.
"The solution is within the players I have," he said. "I have full confidence in my squad, all the players. I am sure we will play a great season -- each competition is still to be decided, there is a long way to go yet. Each season has ups and downs, but I am sure we will arrive strong at the end.
"At the moment we are just focused on tomorrow's game - against a tough opponent who have won their last two games - not looking any further. There are three points in play, which could bring us top of the table, and we must focus on that. We do not focus on outside things, as that will not help us to defeat Levante."