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After hitting a new low, Atlético Madrid has one more game to find its form before facing Manchester United in a Champions League match critical to salvaging its season.
Atlético was shocked before its home fans on Wednesday night when it lost 1-0 to Levante, the Spanish league’s worst team that remained in last place after just its second win of the campaign.
Now, Diego Simeone’s squad has two days of rest before Saturday’s game at Osasuna, a physical team that often gives bigger opponents trouble in Pamplona. That will be its only chance to recover some momentum before it hosts United next week to start their round-of-16 tie.
“The situation is bad, that is obvious. We have to change things, and that depends on us,” Atlético midfielder Marcos Llorente said after his team's fourth defeat in six games across all competitions.
“(We are) already thinking about getting back to work and how we can turn this around in the next match.”
The loss to Levante left Atlético out of the top four spots that earn berths in next season’s Champions League.
After adding Antoine Griezmann, midfielder Rodrigo de Paul and striker Matheus Cunha to its champion squad last summer, Atlético looked prepared to retain its domestic title in Spain and take another shot at an elusive European Cup.
Now, trailing league leader Real Madrid by 15 points and out of the Copa del Rey, Simeone’s main goal is just to qualify for next year’s Champions League to ensure that key revenue.
But the looming matchup with the United of former rival Cristiano Ronaldo will be the focus of its disgruntled fans who fear that Simeone may be losing his touch after 10 years in charge.
Last season, Atlético won the Spanish league after doing what it has consistently done better than its rivals since Simeone started his highly successful tenure as its coach a decade ago. Its rock solid defense led the league in only allowing 25 goals in 38 rounds. That allowed Luis Suárez to lead its attack to the title.
This season, it has already conceded 34 goals in just 24 rounds. That makes it the 13th-ranked defense in the 20-team competition.
“We are not giving our best and it’s impossible to win like this,” said goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who saved Atlético from conceding more goals to Levante. “We need to change or we are not going to make it to the Champions League.”
Osasuna, ninth in the standings, has gone unbeaten in three games and has only one loss in its last five.
Real Madrid hosts Alavés, also on Saturday, after it lost 1-0 at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Second-place Sevilla, which trails Madrid by four points, visits Espanyol on Sunday, while third-place Real Betis faces Mallorca and fourth-place Barcelona is at Valencia.
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