Magath needs Champions League progress to save job at Schalke

German club can secure quarter-final place against Valencia tonight to make up for poor Bundesliga season
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The Independent Football

Schalke are on the verge of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League and have advanced to the final of the German Cup, yet the fans of the title-starved Bundesliga club are demanding the departure of coach Felix Magath.

The supporters have been unhappy with Schalke's performances in the league, to the extent that they unfurled a banner calling for Magath to go just a few days after Schalke stunned Bayern Munich to reach the final of the German Cup.

But all may be forgiven if Magath's men get past Valencia in tonight's return leg of their round-of-16 match in the Champions League. Schalke earned a 1-1 draw at Valencia in the first leg.

"It's a good position to be in but also dangerous," Magath said. "On paper, 1-1 looks better than it really is. If you are trying to protect a 0-0 draw, you automatically come under pressure. We must do something ourselves to go into the lead."

That will probably be the job of Raul, the former Real Madrid striker. Raul scored the equaliser in Valencia and extended his Champions League record to 69 goals. "The return leg will be really complicated," said Raul, who has three goals so far for Schalke in the Champions League. "We do have a slight advantage because of the 1-1, but Valencia is a very dangerous opponent away from home. They have very fast forwards and Valencia is very dangerous because of their quick counter-attacks."

Raul has scored 11 Bundesliga goals in his first season with Schalke and the club would be better than 10th in the table if his forward partner Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had been converting his chances. The Dutchman could miss tonight's match in Gelsenkirchen after twisting his knee.

Schalke have not won the Bundesliga title in five decades and the fans' expectations were raised when the club finished second in Magath's first season. But Magath, true to his habit, reshuffled the team, releasing many veterans and bringing in new players that have yet to gel.

Raul has lived up to expectations but many others have struggled. "I've felt integrated and accepted from the start," the Spanish striker said. "We've lacked consistency throughout the season, the team is still looking to find the right chemistry and we've lacked confidence."

Magath's moves and his at times aloof attitude have turned a number of fans against him, despite efforts to polish his image by starting a Facebook page. Some fans reacted by holding up thumbs-down signs. Schalke also will miss the suspended midfielder Lukas Schmitz.

Valencia are undefeated away from home so far in the Champions League and has won nine of its last 12 games in the Spanish league.

"To eliminate Schalke we have to improve aspects of our play seen in our last two outings to Bilbao and Mallorca," the Valencia coach, Unai Emery, said. "The victories do not hide our defects, and we are aware that Schalke will not forgive errors either in defence or attack."

Emery has all his weapons available after top scorer Aritz Aduriz returned for Saturday's win at Mallorca from an ankle sprain. Aduriz has nine goals in the Spanish league and 15 overall.

Valencia have a surplus of attacking players. Besides Aduriz, it has Spain international Juan Mata, striker Roberto Soldado, winter signing Jonas Goncalves, winger Pablo Hernandez and inform veteran Joaquin Sanchez.