Slumping Atletico face trip to Barca
After three defeats in a week and calls from fans for coach Javier Aguirre to be sacked, Atletico Madrid face a daunting trip to Barcelona for Wednesday's King's Cup last 16 second leg needing to overturn a 3-1 deficit.
The Catalans humbled Atletico in the first leg last Tuesday thanks to a superb hat-trick from Lionel Messi and the Argentine forward was on target again on Sunday, hitting the winner in the 3-2 Primera Liga win at Osasuna.
The Atletico players have rallied round Aguirre. Goalkeeper Leo Franco said criticism from fans after Sunday's 3-2 woeful home loss to Athletic Bilbao was unfair while defender Antonio Lopez called for patience.
"The players are the ones who are to blame because he (Aguirre) is not out there on the pitch," Franco said on the club's website.
"We need to try to get back on the winning trail and then I am sure the cat calls directed at the coach will stop."
Atletico's task of stopping Messi and Barca's other prolific forwards, including the league's top scorer Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry, will be complicated by the absence of central defender John Heitinga.
The Dutchman is suspended for one match after he was sent off in the first leg for felling Messi in the penalty area, but Franco said he and his team mates still believed they had a chance of making it through to the quarter-finals.
"We are not going there for a stroll," he said. "We are confident of our chances and I sincerely believe we can do it."
Atletico Madrid winger Simao Sabrosa has not given up hope his out-of-sorts side can upset the odds.
"Against Barcelona we're not going to let our heads drop and we're not going to give the tie up for lost," said Simao, who spent a couple of seasons at the Nou Camp earlier in his career. "We've played three poor matches, we've lost and now is the time to lift ourselves."
Simao also insists the players are behind under-fire coach Javier Aguirre, who was urged to quit the club by disgruntled Atletico supporters during the recent home defeats to Barca and Athletic Bilbao.
"In this team, when we win, we all win together, the same as when we lose. I've played in many teams and had many coaches, and firing the manager isn't the solution," Simao said.
"When you start losing, it's logical for people to look for someone to blame.
"The public have the right to show their discontent. The best thing that they can do right now is to be by our side and support us, because we really notice that. We're the main ones who want to win."
In other Cup second legs on Wednesday, Sevilla travel to Deportivo Coruna with a 2-1 lead from the first leg having also beaten the Galicians 3-1 in the league at the weekend.
Holders Valencia host Racing Santander level at 1-1 and Real Valladolid need to reverse a 3-1 loss at Sporting Gijon in the first leg having also lost to them 2-1 in Sunday's league game.
Struggling Real Mallorca, thumped 3-0 by Real Madrid on Sunday, will be defending a 3-1 advantage at Almeria.
There are two non-Primera Liga teams left in the competition, Segunda B (third tier) sides Poli Ejido and Real Union, conquerors of Real Madrid in the previous round.
Poli Ejido travel to Barcelona looking to defend a 3-2 advantage over Espanyol while Real Union play Real Betis in Seville trailing 1-0.
In Thursday's one remaining match, Osasuna, currently bottom of the league, and Athletic Bilbao are tied at 1-1 following the first leg in Pamplona.