Growing injury list adds to Real's problems

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The Independent Online

The cream is rising. Three weeks ago the leaders of the main European leagues were Valencia, Udinese and Hoffenheim. Now it is Barcelona, Juventus and, in Germany, Bayern Munich have closed from 11th to within a point of leaders Bayer Leverkusen.

The biggest club of all, however, are in crisis. Real Madrid may only be two points adrift of Barça but their bitter rivals' superb football, and a midweek King's Cup humiliation by the third division side, Real Union, has cast doubt over Bernd Schuster's future as coach.

In a rather qualified defence Iker Casillas, the club's veteran goalkeeper, said, "The whole squad is with the coach from start to finish. The end of the season is the moment to apportion blame if things have not gone well."

Schuster takes his team to Real Valladolid tonight shorn of six players, including Ruud van Nistelrooy who is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery in Colorado this week. "If they hadn't put me in the operating theatre football would have been finished for me," he said yesterday. Also absent are Arjen Robben, Ruben de la Red, Mahamadou Diarra, Pepe and Christoph Metzelder. Barcelona are at Recreativo Huelva tomorrow.

While Juve are not in action this weekend, the Milan clubs, their pursuers, are, with Internazionale expecting to restore Sulley Muntari to the side in Palermo tonight but Milan unlikely to be able to field Andrea Pirlo at home to Chievo tomorrow.

In the Bundesliga a young Leverkusen side today face the first test of their leadership credentials at home to Schalke 04. Hoffenheim, second on goal difference, host Wolfsburg, while in-form Bayern have a good chance of taking top spot in their away fixture at Borussia Mönchengladbach.