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Down, but not out: Under-fire Lopetegui to keep Madrid job until Clasico...for now

19:41 BST 20/10/2018
Julen Lopetegui Real Madrid 20102018
Games this week against Viktoria Plzen and Barcelona are set to decide the former Spain coach's future at the Santiago Bernabeu

Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui is hanging on by a thread at the Santiago Bernabeu, but he is likely to get one more chance to prove he is the right man for the job in next week's Clasico showdown.

Madrid continue mired in a slump the likes of which fans had not seen since before Zinedine Zidane's glorious reign. Even the international week had been a welcome sight to the club, giving Lopetegui and his charges breathing space after going down to Alaves

Levante, however, blew recovery plans out of the water with a 2-1 victory in the Spanish capital on Saturday. And, with that latest reverse, the former Spain coach has edged closer to the precipice. 

While he still retained the trust of those in charge following the Alaves shock, the same thing cannot be said now with an acid test against Barcelona just around the corner. 

Goal can confirm, nevertheless, that for the moment at least Lopetegui is still the coach of Real Madrid. He will remain in charge despite Saturday's disastrous result. But everything now hangs on the Clasico. 

Adverse results in the coming week against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League and/or at Camp Nou would likely seal the Basque's fate. In the meantime, and no matter what the next two games bring, the search has begun in earnest for Lopetegui's potential successor. 

Saturday's match was followed by an emergency meeting between the coach and Madrid president Florentino Perez in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabeu. Goal understands that Lopetegui walked out of that summit with his job intact. 

Almost simultaneously, he was enjoying the defence of his players. "I don't think it's cool that the coach doesn't get a chance to work like with Benitez. We are with the coach to the death," Marcelo signalled. From the directors' box, Emilio Butragueno voiced a similar sentiment, albeit omitting to give Lopetegui a vote of confidence. 

"Circumstances went against us. It has been a blow, we didn't expect this result," Butragueno admitted. "We are down, these are sad times, but I think we have to stay calm."

Talk concerning Lopetegui's potential replacement, meanwhile, has already focused on two names in particular. Argentine Santiago Solari would be a popular choice to step up from Castilla to the first team should the current incumbent receive his marching orders, with Madrid hoping lightning strikes twice after the incredible success enjoyed by fellow Castilla old boy Zidane on the bench. 

Antonio Conte is another viable option. The Italian was sounded out for the job over the summer, and remains a free agent after leaving Chelsea at the end of the 2017-18 season. Goal, however, understands that there had been no contact between Madrid and the coach prior to the clash with Levante.

Other candidates are scarce, a factor which could ultimately work in Lopetegui's favour. But even the lack of a suitable successor may not be enough to save his job in the end, such is the concern around Madrid after a shocking run of three defeats in four winless Liga games. He may yet sit on the bench during the Clasico, but anything after that is a total mystery for Madrid's beleaguered boss.