Sat, Nov 15, 2008 - Page 18 News List

Axe hovering over Schuster as Real chase Barcelona

INJURED ACEThe German coach’s problems were compounded by news that striker Ruud van Nistelrooy will miss the rest of the season

AFP , MADRID

Bernd Schuster has experienced some lows in his 16-month spell as Real Madrid manager but the German coach is currently facing his most difficult time, with intense speculation that he could be set for the axe if things don’t improve, starting with today’s match at Valladolid.

The champions are only two points behind leaders Barcelona but Schuster is feeling the heat after back-to-back defeats to Juventus in the Champions League, unconvincing displays in the league and a humiliating Kings Cup defeat at the Bernabeu to third division Real Union, who play at the same level as Real’s reserves.

“I’m not worried about my job, but I understand that others will have some doubts,” said Schuster. “That’s logical with what we are seeing.”

To compound Schuster’s woes, Dutch marksman Ruud van Nistlerooy, the league’s top-scorer two seasons ago, is out for the season needing surgery on his troublesome right knee.

The 32-year-old former Manchester United player, the top scorer in the 2006-07 Spanish league season with 25 goals in 37 matches, picked up the injury during a 2-1 Champions League defeat at Juventus last month.

The Dutch striker made the trip across the Atlantic earlier this week to see Richard Steadman, who operated on him on Wednesday, Real said.

Steadman successfully operated on the same knee in 2000 after the marksman, then a PSV Eindhoven player, suffered ligament damage during a training session that threatened to end his career.

Real will hope Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain can fill the void left by van Nistelrooy and build on his four-goal haul in the 4-3 win over Malaga last weekend.

“It’s very sad because Ruud is very important to this team,” Higuain said. “My teammates and I offer him all our support and hope he gets better.”

“It was disappointing to go out of the Cup but I don’t think there is a crisis. We are two points behind the leaders and our destiny is in our own hands in the Champions League,” he said.

Real, who have not kept a clean sheet since the end of September, have leaked eight goals in their last three matches — something Schuster needs to sort out quickly.

Valencia are a point behind Villarreal in third under new coach Unai Emery and host Sporting Gijon tonight.

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