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What: La Liga BBVA, Matchday 12
Who: Real Madrid (4th, 23pts) vs Recreativo Huelva (19th, 7pts)
When: Saturday, 22nd November 2008, 2000 CET
Where: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid

Bernd Schuster miraculously managed to avoid the guillotine last week, despite the club plunging deeper into crisis. However, the ice under his feet is getting thinner and thinner with every game and this Saturday’s clash with unheralded Recreativo Huelva could potentially be the last time he trudges out of the Bernabéu tunnel and into the fiery cauldron.

Repaying The Faith

Despite the constant pressure and speculation from the media, the Real Madrid hierarchy, true to their word, decided not to axe Schuster even after the shock 1-0 defeat at Real Valladolid last Saturday.

Not only that, but president Ramón Calderón and sporting director Predrag Mijatovic have both come out to voice their support for the Augsburg-born coach. Even the players themselves have declared that they are ready to fight all the way for their trainer, while countless rival coaches, players and presidents have also backed the German to overcome this crisis.

But while all those words of encouragement are fine and sunshine, the 48 year old still has to perform and get the job done. The ‘White House’ chiefs may continue to back him and they may be the ones who decide if he stays or goes, but even they are powerless against the 80,000-strong Bernabéu crowd waving white handkerchiefs.

Schuster will be hoping that his batteries have been recharged and his hunger for success revived following the brief self-imposed holiday he took earlier in the week due to the international break. The board, on the other hand, will be hoping that the time off has allowed him to regroup and refocus his footballing game plan, as it has become increasingly clear that whatever he and the team have been trying to do in recent weeks hasn't been working.

On paper, Saturday’s opponents Recreativo may not look like a rival that requires too much tinkering to overcome, but the Andaluz outfit did thump the merengues 3-0 at the Bernabéu the last time the men in white were in a near-identical crisis.

Recre-ating History

That was, of course, back in December 2006 when El Decano stunned a Fabio Capello-coached Madrid side who were just at the very start of a very dismal run of form. Now, two years on, could history repeat itself... and will there be even more dire consequences?

Recre had a much more formidable team back then, although they were still just as grossly unfancied compared to their illustrious opponents from the capital. This season, having lost a few key players and their highly rated young coach Marcelino García Toral, the Andalucians have looked decidedly out of  their depth as they lie in 19th spot in the standings, with just seven points to show after 11 rounds.

They did, however, minimise last weekend’s home defeat against Barcelona to just a 2-0 scoreline, becoming only one of five teams in the league to prevent the Blaugrana from scoring more than two goals in a game. It’s not a massively proud achievement but, considering the merciless form the Catalans have been in lately, it is quite a feat for a small team like Recreativo, so they can take a lot of encouragement from their defensive display.

And, if they can replicate that kind of resolute performance this weekend, Lucas Alcaraz’s men will stand every chance of repeating history and recording their second every victory at the Bernabéu.


FORM GUIDE

Real Madrid

Nov 15 Real Valladolid 1-0 Real Madrid (LA LIGA)

Nov 11 Real Madrid 4-3 Real Unión (LA LIGA)

Nov 08 Real Madrid 4-3 Málaga (LA LIGA)

Nov 05 Real Madrid 0-2 Juventus (CHAMPIONS LEAGUE)

Nov 02 UD Almería 1-1 Real Madrid (LA LIGA)

Recreativo Huelva

Nov 16 Recreativo 0-2 Barcelona (LA LIGA)

Nov 12 Recreativo 2-1 Athletic Bilbao (COPA DEL REY)

Nov 09 Sevilla 1-0 Recreativo (LA LIGA)

Nov 02 Recreativo 1-1 Getafe (LA LIGA)

Oct 29 Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Recreativo (COPA DEL REY)


TEAM NEWS

Real Madrid

Portuguese defender Pepe, who has been out of action for the past month due to a bruised thigh, completed the full 90 minutes for his national team in midweek and he looks likely to be reinstated to Madrid’s starting XI this weekend, especially with Gabriel Heinze suspended following his late sending off against Valladolid last weekend.

The nine other internationals also returned home unscathed but Schuster will have to determine their condition as he needs to take into account this coming Tuesday’s critical Champions League trip to BATE Borisov.

Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy is out for the rest of the campaign after undergoing knee surgery while countryman Arjen Robben is still at least two weeks away from a return from injury, although he has started training with the ball. Midfielders Mahamadou Diarrà and Rubén de la Red could make their comeback this Saturday after regaining full fitness.

Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Casillas – Sergio Ramos, Cannavaro, Pepe, Marcelo – Sneijder, Gago, Guti – Higuaín, Raúl (c), Drenthe

Recreativo Huelva

Centreback Arzo will be barred from this clash after accumulating his fifth booking of the season against Barcelona last Sunday.

Striker Javi Guerrero has shaken off a sprained ankle and he has been included in the squad list, as has Turkish forward Ersen Martín who is back after a long lay-off. Côte d’Ivoire frontman Kanga Akalé has recovered from a bout of gastroenteritis which ruled him out of his country’s midweek international friendly, but it is uncertain if he is fit enough to play a significant role in Saturday’s game.

Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Riesgo – Bouzón, Beto, Morris, Poli – Sisi, Jesús Vázquez, Javi Fuego, Aitor (c) – Adrián, Marco Rubén


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Real Madrid

Amidst all this turmoil, there has been one shining light: the emergence of young striker Gonzalo Higuaín. The Argentine has matured and lifted his game to a new level over the past few weeks and he has stepped up admirably to cover for the crocked van Nistelrooy. Royston Drenthe is another player who has risen to the challenge amid these tough times and, although he still has to prove himself as a match-winner, he is slowly showing the promise that everyone was talking about prior to his arrival at the Bernabéu.

Recreativo Huelva

Adrián was the one player who gave Barcelona’s defence the most trouble last weekend with his speed and skill and he is likely to cause the same kind of mayhem on a wobbly Madrid backline. Marco Rubén, a strong and deadly player in the air, is also bound to cause some problems at the back for the reigning La Liga champions, but only if he is given the appropriate support and service from his team-mates in midfield.


PREDICTION

This Recreativo side are an incredibly well-organized and tenacious defensive unit and, if Schuster’s men had trouble breaking down Real Valladolid last weekend, they are likely to encounter the same issues this week. But with the second worse attacking record in the league, Recre are slightly more goal-shy and this could prompt Los Blancos to double their efforts upfront.

Still, barring a stark improvement, or a change of style to vary their predictable attacking game plan, it’s hard to see Madrid snap out of their current abysmal form.

Real Madrid 1-1 Recreativo Huelva

KS Leong

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