Reports out of Madrid today are confirming that Dutch hitman Ruud Van Nistelrooy will require knee surgery that will sideline him for six to nine months, ending his season. This will come as a huge blow to Real Madrid and I think it could spell the end of any hopes they had of any major silverware this season.
This news could not have come at a worse time for a Madrid side that crashed out of the Copa Del Rey on Tuesday after losing, 6-6, on aggregate away goals to lowly Real Union. Bernd Schuster must be feeling the heat a little despite recent assurances that he will have the chance to bring in reinforcements during the January transfer window.
The problem however is that these reinforcements should've been brought in over the summer instead of all the wasted time Madrid spent twisting their hair around their fingers over Cristiano Ronaldo. A last-ditch effort to sign David Villa was rejected by Valencia and as a result Los Blancos are currently lacking in world-beating strikers of the calibre of Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
The strikers Real Madrid do have read like a Goldilocks and the Three Bears story. Schuster (he of the gold locks) comes across three strikers: Raul (who is too old to make an impact every match and is better left rotated like Del Piero at Juventus), Higuain (who is too young to handle the pressure of stepping into Van Nistelrooy's Golden Boots) and Saviola (who is just right but unfortunately cannot get a game at Real Madrid to save John Terry from falling in the rain).
So what is Bernd Schuster to do as he sits there in his hypothetical blonde pigtails and frills? Some might suggest changing up to a 4-5-1 but none of Madrid's healthy strikers possess the ability to hold their own up front as solitary target men so I do not think Schuster is going down that Yellow Brick Road (I'm just full of the fairy tale references today aren't I?).
The more likely option is Schuster will wait until January to bring in a new striker. The most likely man to replace Van Nistelrooy will probably be Manchester United's super-sub Carlos Tevez though you can't help but wonder the wisdom of bringing in a £30 million man during the winter transfer window.
The difficulties another pricey winter acquisition named Nicolas Anelka found slotting in at Chelsea last year are a prime example of the pressure that comes with being asked to come in as an expensive signing without having had much training or preseason experience with your new teammates.
In the meantime however, Madrid will have to compete on both the European and domestic fronts and, frankly, I don't see them winning either competition without Van Nistelrooy's goals fueling their engine. Robinho's departure to Manchester City already weakened their shot at a La Liga three-peat and, in my humble opinion, Van Nistelrooy's absence will have effectively killed it off.
As it stands, their leaky squeaky defence currently resembles four men who've never seen each other before and are now being asked to stop some of the world's best strike-forces more than it resembles a Champions League winning unit and without Ruud Van Nistelrooy their forward line doesn't look like the Champions League winning type, either.