Schalke 04 are in danger of heading into a mid-season crisis after a winless run of four league matches and their fiery Dutch coach Huub Stevens is at the centre of the storm.
Schalke, who lifted some of the pressure by drawing at Montpellier in the Champions League on Tuesday to top their group with an unbeaten record, have a difficult match at seventh-placed VfB Stuttgart on Saturday.
The Gelsenkirchen team have slipped to fourth in the Bundesliga with 25 points after losing two and drawing two of their last four games and Stuttgart will pull level with them on points if they win on Saturday.
Stevens criticised Schalke's fans after last weekend's 1-1 draw at home to Borussia Monchengladbach where he surprisingly replaced goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall with former Germany international Timo Hildebrand.
Stevens had previously criticised fans for booing Unnerstall and was again angry after they took part in the so-called silent protests against proposed tougher security measures in the Bundesliga during last Saturday's game.
Fans at several other matches also stayed silent for the opening few minutes to show their displeasure.
"I give compliments to the team but not for a certain section of the fans," said Stevens. "A high number of fans support the team, but a minority does not. I don't get it."
This has prompted speculation that Stevens, who took over the reins in September last year after Ralf Rangnick resigned citing exhaustion, could be replaced at the end of the season when his contract ends.
Sporting director Horst Heldt said that such talk was premature.
"Huub for me is an absolutely reliable partner, who I respect very much," he told the DPA news agency.
"We'll get together at some point and discuss everything alone. Since we have not talked yet, I cannot say anything. I do not know Huub's feelings on the matter."
Heldt previously told the SID sports news agency that he was also baffled by the fans reaction last week.
"I do not know why it happened," he said. "After all, it's a shame because you have to join forces if things are not going well. We all have to pull together.
"Stevens is certainly very emotional character and stands up for the team and each of his players. He does not hold back.
"Perhaps some find his statements unacceptable but that is how he is and he will remain that way."
The Bundesliga is on a high after Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, Germany's other Champions League representatives, also topped their groups this week.
Leaders Bayern, who have an eight-point advantage over Bayer Leverkusen, look unlikely to slip up on Saturday when they visit lowly Augsburg, who are 17th in the 18-team table and have only eight points from 15 games.
Leverkusen visit midtable Hannover 96 while third-placed Borussia Dortmund are away to VfL Wolfsburg.
Titleholders Dortmund are unbeaten in their last 11 games and held Bayern 1-1 away last weekend, although they have dropped 11 points adrift of the dominant Bavarians.comments