MADRID: Real Madrid have sacked Rafa Benitez only six months after he was appointed to succeed Carlo Ancelotti.

The former Valencia, Liverpool and Chelsea boss has endured a difficult season at the Estadio Bernabeu.Madrid are only four points behind Spanish league leaders Atletico but he has suffered fallouts with key players and been criticised for a defensive style of football.

Benitez received backing from president Florentino Perez last November, shortly after Madrid were defeated 4-0 at home by Barcelona in the first of this season’s clasico fixtures. However, despite that vote of confidence, the 55-year-old has now been shown the door.

Zinedine Zidane, the coach of Real Madrid’s nursery club Castilla, is stepping up as interim coach though speculation about the availability of Jose Mourinho is certain to feature in the inevitable media frenzy.

The Frenchman would have preferred to take up his first senior appointment in the summer but is understood to have accepted a need to answer the emergency.

Benitez’s final match in charge was on Sunday when ten-men Real were held to a 2-2 draw by Gary Neville’s Valencia.

Before Christmas Madrid were expelled from the Spanish cup for fielding an inelgible player in a tie with Cadiz.