Atlético, Real Madrid meet in Copa del Rey
BARCELONA, Spain (AP):
Fernando Torres could make his Atlético Madrid return seven years after last wearing the red and white striped shirt when the defending league champions host Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey tomorrow.
The first leg of the last 16 brings together the winners of the last two cups. Madrid eliminated Atlético en route to winning last season.
Atlético have already beaten Madrid in the league this season and will be looking to build momentum to carry over to the league.
Also, Barcelona will host Elche on Thursday after losing at Real Sociedad in the league over the weekend.
Here are some things to know about this week's Copa del Rey matches:
Torres has returned to the boyhood club he left in 2007 to go to England, where he flourished at Liverpool before beginning a decline with Chelsea that led to his disappointing stint at AC Milan to start this season.
Now he is back at the club that was a perennial loser when he played there, now transformed into a multi-title winner.
Just how much the 30-year-old Torres can offer a consolidated Atlético squad is to be seen, but he has already shown his ability to thrill their faithful by filling the Vicente Calderón with 45,000 fans who turned out to greet him on Sunday.
Torres arrives with Atlético's supporters divided in the aftermath of a violent clash between one of the club's radical fan groups with rival "ultras" of Deportivo La Coruna that left one man dead in November.
The Madrid native called for unity.
"The people who love Atlético know that they win points for the team," Torres said. "Last year, the team was champion because we won many points here (at home). On Wednesday, I'm sure we will see a great atmosphere like in other derbies. Atlético is above everything else and our fans will help us win and grow."
Madrid ended 2014 on a 22-game winning streak across all competitions, a record for a Spanish club. That came to a halt when Valencia fought back from a goal down to wipe out Cristiano Ronaldo's penalty at Mestalla Stadium and win 2-1. Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti took the loss in stride.
"After 22 wins this could happen," Ancelotti said. "We're well positioned in the league. We're alive in several competitions. This defeat won't affect us because we have been doing things well."
Madrid now face a second tough outing against an Atlético side that has gotten the upper hand of their rivalry after years of Madrid dominance.
Both of Barcelona's main sports dailies splashed photos of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Dani Alves and Gerard Pique watching from the bench as Barcelona fell behind early in a 1-0 loss at Real Sociedad on Sunday.
El Mundo Deportivo's headline read "What a Waste", while SPORT was more pointed in its criticism of the coach's decision to rest his stars with the headline "Luis Enrique Throws Away Points".
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has been criticised all season for his constant changing of his starting 11 and that was only fed by him keeping Messi and Neymar off the field until the second half.
Barcelona face Elche as they prepare for Atlético's visit in the league next.
With no lower-division sides surviving the round of 32, the rest of the bracket is completed by top-flight teams.
Athletic Bilbao visit Celta Vigo today, when Malaga host Levante. Tomorrow, it's: Valencia vs. Espanyol; Villarreal vs Real Sociedad; and Almeria vs Getafe.
Sevilla visit Granada also on Thursday.