x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Cup the only bright spot for Atletico

The Madrid club are renowned for lurching from disorder to disaster on and off the field, but this season has been particularly frustrating for the red and whites.

Diego Forlan cannot explain the club's poor form.
Diego Forlan cannot explain the club's poor form.

MADRID // Diego Forlan shrugs his shoulders when asked why this season has been so poor for his club, Atletico Madrid. "Football can be very strange," the Uruguayan said. "Everything goes to plan on the training ground- and then it doesn't during matches. We have a young team, but the young players are very talented and there's plenty of experience too. We should be doing much better."

Atletico are renowned for lurching from disorder to disaster on and off the field, but this season has been particularly frustrating for fans of the red and whites. They finished last term strongly enough to qualify for the Champions League, only to start this campaign with just one win in their first 11 league matches. Abel Resino, their coach, was replaced by Quique Sanchez Flores after nine months in the job.

Flores, a former Real Madrid youth coach, is contracted until the end of the season on the under- standing he will only be offered a new one if he leads Atletico to European qualification. At least they realise that giving any coach a contract for more than one year in unwise given their history. Despite not winning any of their six Champions League group games, Atletico's league form picked up under Flores as they won five of seven league games. Out-of-form winger Maxi Rodriguez was allowed to join Liverpool for a knock down £1.5 million (Dh8.8m) and talented youngsters like Senegalese striker Ibrahim have been given a chance. Then, just as things were looking up and the Madrid media were starting to roar "Atleti are back", they imploded again.

A defeat at neighbours Getafe last week was followed by a humiliating 2-0 loss at home to Malaga on Sunday - the struggling Andalusians who had already beaten Atletico 3-0 at home and the result leaves them in 13th. Flores is now saddled with uncomfortable statistic of having lost more games than he has won at the club. With Forlan less prolific than usual and injury limiting the appearances of the prodigious Sergio Aguero, the only salvation for Spain's third best-supported club has been in the Copa del Rey, where Atleti have stumbled into the semi-finals by beating a succession of lower league sides.

In-form Racing Santander - unbeaten in nine with their brilliant young striker Sergio Canales - are their opponents starting with tonight's first leg at the Calderon. Ironically, Racing also meet Atleti in the league, the pair clashing three times in a week. . Such is the importance to which both mid-table sides are attaching to the cup, weakened sides are expected for the league fixture in Santander - where Racing have the second worst home record in the league - at the weekend. It is away where Racing are at their most dangerous, where they have a better record than Real Madrid and have managed to beat Sevilla and Sporting in the last month.

"It's our most important game of the season, that's why we are going to treat it as a final" added Forlan ahead of the game at the Calderon, where a 50,000 crowd is expected. "Atleti is geared towards winning trophies and it's the only chance we have of winning one this season. To win the cup would rescue a disappointing season for us and so that's what we are aiming for. It's what our fans deserve."

@Email:amitten@thenational.ae Atletico v Racing, 1am Friday, Aljazeera Sport +2