Casillas or Lopez? The goalkeeper debate dividing Madrid

Both shot-stoppers received cheers and jeers at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday and the bad feeling is threatening to harm the club’s new pacific project under Carlo Ancelotti

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

No more conflicts. The damaging divisions at Real Madrid were supposed to end in the summer as Jose Mourinho moved on and Carlo Ancelotti moved in, with the Italian coach seen as the ideal man to heal rifts and close wounds after a highly controversial campaign under the Portuguese in 2012-13. But things haven’t quite worked out as planned.

Ancelotti was expected to restore captain Iker Casillas between the sticks as the capital club began a new project with a 2-1 win at home to Betis last weekend, but Diego Lopez had rejected a summer switch to Monaco and was determined to keep his place in the Madrid goal. And he duly did so.

Captured on camera by Cuatro with a resigned expression etched upon his face, Iker ironically told assistant goalkeeping coach Juan Canales: “At least I will play in the Bernabeu Trophy…” And the 32-year-old was chosen to start that match on Thursday night as Madrid fans paid homage to his former team-mate Raul – back in town with Qatari club Al Sadd.

It was not a vintage performance, but it was enough.

Barcelona beat Malaga thanks to Adriano’s solo strike at La Rosaleda, even though goalkeeper Willy Caballero will have expected to have saved the Brazilian’s effort late in the first half.

With Lionel Messi failing to recover from his bruised thigh, Barcelona dominated in Andalucia but lacked the finishing touch despite impressive displays from both Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez.

Now Madrid travel to Andalucia to face Granada on Monday in what is Ancelotti’s first away game as coach of Real and the Italian will hope to improve on the club’s miserable form in the region last term, when they lost at Granada, Malaga, Betis and Sevilla in La Liga.

But it was not the happy return he would have hoped for, with both cheers and jeers ringing in his ears before the match as a sector of the club’s fans showed support for Diego Lopez.

And there were moments of discomfort for both men as the former Sevilla man emerged from the bench to warm up five minutes before the interval, with whistles for the two goalkeepers interrupting the games’ quietest passage of play. Casillas, out on the pitch, appeared agitated as he stared blankly at the Bernabeu turf.

After Madrid beat Betis 2-1, Ancelotti attempted to play down the significance of leaving out the Spain star. “Today the goalkeeper was Diego,” he simply said. “For the next game we will see…”

And ahead of los Blancos‘ trip to Granada on Monday, the Italian remained coy. “I am fortunate to have two fantastic goalkeepers,” he explained.

Ancelotti picked Lopez for the first Liga game of the season following close consultation with goalkeeping coach Villiam Vecchi. “It came down to small details,” the former AC Milan coach claimed later.

Discussing the decision to drop Casillas earlier this year, Mourinho said in June: “It was a pure footballing decision. I decided on one player and not the other – as a manager, all of my decisions are based on meritocracy.”

But behind the debate there was much more to it than that. Mourinho was unhappy that Casillas called Xavi to heal relations following a series of ill-tempered Clasico clashes between Madrid and Barcelona, while the Portuguese was also furious at revelations by the player’s partner, journalist Sara Carbonero, that the atmosphere in the Madrid dressing room was less than harmonious.

Many madridistas turned against their captain, believing him to be the dressing-room ‘mole’ leaking stories of disharmony and unfair treatment to the Madrid media. But now Lopez has been dragged into a similar debate following some seemingly ill-advised messages on Twitter by his wife in which she appears to discredit Casillas.

Ancelotti arrived as a ‘pacifist’, yet the Italian is already faced with a debacle which is threatening to destablise Madrid’s season – even though it has barely begun. And it remains to be seen whether Madrid fans can fully support either of their two shot-stoppers. In the meantime, the fight for the one starting spot in goal goes on – and the gloves are off.

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