Schuster hoping to lead new-look Real Madrid to second straight Spanish title

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> With the exit of David Beckham and the arrival of coach Bernd Schuster, Spanish champion Real Madrid begins its title defense with a whole new image.

Updated: August 22, 2007 07:38 IST
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With the exit of David Beckham and the arrival of coach Bernd Schuster, Spanish champion Real Madrid begins its title defense with a whole new image.

So far, it hasn't looked very good.

Madrid stumbled erratically through its preseason games, losing the Spanish Supercup to Sevilla as Schuster shuffled his team in search of the right combinations of new faces and the usual veterans.

But Madrid fans are notoriously impatient, and Schuster will have to find a winning track quickly if he wants to secure his position with the Spanish champions.

The club starts its title defense Saturday against crosstown rival Atletico Madrid.

Madrid president Ramon Calderon fired Fabio Capello after the Italian coach led the club to its first major title in four years because his brand of soccer wasn't exciting enough for the fans.

Schuster, a former Madrid player who made his mark as coach by leading overachieving Getafe for two seasons, must now retain the title while also bringing attractive play to the team.

"The coach has great ideas for the team, and that's a good thing for the players," striker Ruud van Nistelrooy said. "Who doesn't like to play good football? The players more than anybody like to play good football, but we also have to win matches."

Madrid did just that last season, losing only once in its last 18 games behind the inspired play of Beckham and Van Nistelrooy, who finished with a league-high 25 goals.

With offense in mind, Schuster has Javier Saviola, Julio Baptista and Roberto Soldado to support Van Nistelrooy and Gonzalo Higuain in attack.

Madrid also paid Ajax $37 million for attacking midfielder Wesley Sneijder, with Schuster still courting Netherlands international Arjen Robben from Chelsea.

"All great teams should have two or three players per position," Van Nistelrooy said. "There will be less time to recover for the European Championship at the end of the season, so everyone will be given a lot of opportunities."

With Madrid's last remaining "galactico" Roberto Carlos also having left the club, Madrid's initial summer signings were defensive-minded. But those additions looked shaky in Madrid's 5-3 loss to Sevilla in the Spanish Supercup on Sunday.

Center back Pepe was ejected, Royston Drenthe tired down the stretch and Christoph Metzelder hasn't played much. That leaves Fabio Cannavaro and Sergio Ramos to carry the defensive load at the start of the season.

Raul Gonzalez, goalkeeper Iker Casillas and midfielder Jose Maria "Guti" Gutierrez will also be called upon to provide leadership as the team adjusts to its new look.

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