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Stay-away fans know: Why it could all unravel at Real Madrid

COMMENT: Real Madrid and Julen Lopetegui. Three games. Three wins. The players are happy. They're bouncing. Well, most of 'em. But this is Real, where there's always something simmering below the surface...

So far so good for Lopetegui. Nine points from his first three games in charge. He's won one political battle with Florentino Perez, the Real president. And managed to navigate another - so far - without repercussion. But this is a false dawn. That 100 per cent record only papering over ever widening gaps. As the European champions stand today, they'll end the season potless.

Big call? Nah. This is an easy one to make. Yeah, on first flush the place looks healthy. The locker room in good spirits. The players enjoying their football. Indeed, word from Valdebebas is they're far happier working to Lopetegui's system than predecessor Zinedine Zidane. The only complaint to emanate from the locker room has been the lack of faith shown by the support. This column has been told the players spoke passionately in the warm down session after victory over Getafe about the half-empty Bernabeu to kickoff the new season. They noticed it - and were hurt.

But the fans are the great barometer. They know. And as much goodwill as there is around Lopetegui's approach. His support for the local players. The style of play he's brought to the team. There's no avoiding it. The team that finished third last season. The one that ended 17 points behind champions Barcelona. Today, they're actually worse off.

Florentino knows he's been fortunate. The gravity of failing to replace Cristiano Ronaldo so far lessened by the Portuguese's goal-shy form with Juventus. But he also knows that'll change. With that first goal, the spotlight will be shone on his actions this summer. And will become brighter and hotter as the second, third and fourth goals are recorded by Juve's new No7.

It must be remembered. Going into Christmas last season, there was a real chance of Zidane losing his job. Fear had swept the club. They were barely clinging onto the coattails of the top four. Cycle forward to today - and what's changed? Zidane is gone. As has Ronaldo. But in terms of on-field improvement, no fair-minded observer could say Real Madrid have gained ground on champions Barca.

Thibaut Courtois? C'mon. Farcical is too strong. But last week's victory over Leganes was getting close to it. In the pre-match, there he was. Keylor Navas. The Costa Rican paraded in front of the Bernabeu crowd with his 'The Best' trophy after being named UEFA's Goalkeeper of the Year. Only when it came to kickoff, Keylor was in the home dugout, forced to make way for Courtois. Those political battles we mentioned? This one can be chalked to Florentino. Courtois was his one big name signing this summer. He just couldn't go into the international break without the former Chelsea keeper making his debut.

It was tough on Keylor - and his coach. Lopetegui was forced to make the call, despite his No1 skipping international duty as a show of commitment. With the majority of the squad away this week, the pair of them have been working even closer. Awkward...

The other dispute between president and coach involved another of Florentino's summer arrivals. Only this time, Lopetegui won out. To have a €45m player running around the Segunda B in front of scores of fans sounds ridiculous. But this is what Vinicius Junior has swapped Flamengo for - on orders of Lopetegui. And now it's been confirmed Vinicius, who was bitten by Atletico B captain Tachi last week, will not be considered for away games to protect him. Things at Real do just simmer away...

As stated, the players are angry with the "pessimism" from fans and pundits who don't see them every day on the Valdebebas training pitches. But we'll know more this month.

Aided by a soft schedule, Real have so far avoided scrutiny. But that'll change. Lying in wait is Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames, then Sevilla and Atletico Madrid. The Champions League also kicks off with a group opener against AS Roma. Yeah, now we'll see the whites of their eyes.

The place won't come crashing down after one defeat. But two? Then the questions are asked. Then the forensic analysis begins. The players broke up last week with it all still intact.

But something is simmering just below the surface. Those stayaway fans know it. It won't take much for things to unravel.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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