x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Aguirre's daunting Barca trip

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 tonight's King's Cup last 16 second leg needing to overturn a 3-1 deficit.

MADRID // 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 tonight's King's Cup last 16 second leg needing to overturn a 3-1 deficit. Barca 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 around Aguirre. The goalkeeper Leo Franco said criticism from fans after Sunday's 3-2 home loss to Athletic Bilbao was unfair while the 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. "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 banned defender John Heitinga. Sevilla travel to Deportivo La Coruna with a 2-1 lead from the first leg. Holders Valencia host Racing Santander level at 1-1 and Real Valladolid need to reverse a 3-1 loss at Sporting Gijon.

Struggling Real Mallorca will be defending a 3-1 advantage at Almeria. Osasuna, currently bottom of the league, and Athletic Bilbao are tied at 1-1. There are two non-Primera Liga teams left in the competition, Segunda B sides Poli Ejido and Real Union, conquerors of Real Madrid in the previous round. Ejido travel to Barcelona looking to defend a 3-2 advantage over Espanyol while Union play Real Betis trailing 1-0.

* Reuters