MADRID - Atletico Madrid are next in line
to collide with the Barcelona juggernaut at the Nou Camp on
Saturday, an untimely clash for a side desperately seeking a
kickstart to the second half of the season.
The Europa League champions have won only once in La Liga
since the start of the year, losing three and drawing one, and
have slipped to seventh, 11 points behind fourth-placed Valencia
after 21 matches.
The club's demanding fans have been voicing loud discontent
but midfielder Juanfran, who joined from Osasuna in the January
transfer window, insists Atletico have what it takes to upset
Barca and kickstart a positive run of results.
"We had several very bad weeks with bad results and the
dressing room is pretty upset," he told a news conference on
"But I have found a strong group here, as there is nobody
who is not trying to get the team out of this," he added.
"The team is surely going to play much better from here
until the end of the season and we are going for our goal of
making it into the Champions League. Obviously the atmosphere
will improve if we win on Saturday."
Juanfran said the key to the match against what he called
"the best team in the world" would likely be getting after the
Barca players and not letting them settle into a rhythm.
"We are going to go for them from the opening minute and
make sure they do not feel comfortable," he said.
"It is not going to be easy, but we will also have our
chances, although 90 minutes feel very long at the Nou Camp.
"To win, we have to run more than them and be as effective
as possible. Those are the team's ideas. We are going to
Barcelona to win."
Barca moved seven points clear of great rivals Real Madrid
thanks to last weekend's 3-0 win at Hercules, which matched the
La Liga record of 15 straight wins set by Real in the 1960-61
Jose Mourinho's expensively-assembled Real side crashed to a
shock 1-0 defeat at Osasuna, two weeks after a frustrating draw
They host Real Sociedad on Sunday knowing that another
slip-up could deal a fatal blow to their hopes of ending Barca's
two-year reign as Spanish champions.
Third-placed Villarreal, who are six points behind Real, are
at home to struggling Levante, while Valencia, a further four
back in fourth, host Hercules on Monday.
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