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Axe expected to fall, but Real coach Lopetegui still hoping to survive

Madrid (AFP) – Faced with uncomfortable questions about his future amid speculation that he is set to be sacked, Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui tried to play down suggestions that his job is on the line in Sunday’s Clasico against Barcelona.

“I hope to still be breathing. I don’t think I am going to die,” Lopetegui told reporters on Saturday ahead of the trip to the Camp Nou.

“Everyone is 100 percent full of energy and my energies are 100 percent focused on helping the team.”

The 52-year-old is widely believed to be on borrowed time at the Santiago Bernabeu, just four months after his appointment as the successor to Zinedine Zidane.

The pressure is on Lopetegui after Real went on a run of five games without a win, losing four and scoring just one goal in that time.

The sequence was ended in a 2-1 win against Czech side Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League in midweek, but the unconvincing performance did little to suggest Lopetegui would stay much longer in the job.

A defeat at the Camp Nou against a Barcelona side missing the injured Lionel Messi would see Real fall seven points behind the league leaders just 10 games into the campaign.

But the former Spain coach, who represented both Barcelona and Real in his career as a goalkeeper, was not in the mood for answering constant questions on his future.

“I have 100 percent energy and I am not going to waste even 0.01 percent of that answering that question,” he replied to one journalist.

Whether or not it proves to be his final game in charge, Lopetegui is confident Marcelo will be able to take part.

The Brazilian came off with a knock against Viktoria Plzen but has trained normally. Isco’s chances of starting the game are in doubt, however.

Having been denied the chance to lead Spain into the World Cup after being sacked on the eve of the competition for agreeing to take the Real job, Lopetegui is adamant that Sunday’s game is the biggest of his managerial career.

He said: “Nothing compares to it. In footballing terms of course it’s a game with huge expectation and it’s the highest level.”

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