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By ESPN Staff
Feb 28, 2008

Atletico need to beat Barca to rescue season

MADRID, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid are fighting to prevent their season from completely disintegrating and to get back on track need to beat Barcelona at home in the Primera Liga on Saturday. Javier Aguirre's side have been knocked out of the King's Cup and the UEFA Cup in recent weeks and have managed only two wins from their last 11 games in all competitions. They have defied gravity in the league, however, hanging on to fourth place despite losing four of their last six matches. 'We are going through difficult times but the team are united and believe they will finish the season in the Champions League places in May,' Atletico defender Juan Valera told a news conference. 'If we can beat Barca it will give us confidence and send out strong a message that we are still here.' Atletico were trounced 6-0 by Barca at the Calderon last season but have traditionally been something of a bogey side for the Catalans. Before then, they were unbeaten in the previous five meetings between the sides. They are strengthened by the return of Argentine striker Sergio Aguero, midfielders Simao Sabrosa and Raul Garcia, and defender Pablo Ibanez. Second-placed Barca are 13 points ahead of Atletico and only two short of leaders Real Madrid after their 5-1 thrashing of bottom club Levante last weekend. They are showing signs of regaining the form that earned them consecutive league titles in 2005 and 2006, and extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 15 with a 1-1 draw against Valencia in their King's Cup semi-final first leg on Wednesday. Real have spent the week fighting off media talk of a mini crisis after losing their perfect home record to Getafe in a 1-0 defeat last weekend. It was their third defeat in four in the league, and they have lost top scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy to an ankle complaint for the trip to Recreativo Huelva on Saturday. On a positive note, forward Robinho and centre back Pepe are expected to return from injury. 'The motivation of their players will be different because a few weeks ago they were eight points clear, now it is only two. They have to win. No other result will do,' said Recre coach Manolo Zambrano. Recre are 17th in the standings but have taken seven points from their last nine. They inflicted a surprise 3-0 defeat on Real at the Bernabeu last season. Third-placed Villarreal host Osasuna on Sunday and a resurgent Sevilla, who are two points behind Atletico in fifth, visit Deportivo Coruna on Saturday.