MADRID - Espanyol's season looked to be heading into freefall just over a week ago following a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Malaga in the league and the sacking of coach Mane after only eight games in charge. Two decent performances later under new coach Mauricio Pochettino, including a battling 0-0 draw with city rivals Barcelona in the first leg of their King's Cup quarter-final, and the club have raised hopes of turning things around. Thursday's Cup second leg at the Nou Camp now has the twin attraction of keeping their ambitions of winning a trophy alive while landing a body blow to their seemingly invincible neighbours. Pochettino, a former Argentina international defender, said he was "quite satisfied" with Sunday's 1-1 league draw at Real Valladolid but noted there was still a lot of work to be done to haul the club out of the relegation places. "The team must go to the Nou Camp with the intention of getting through to the semi-finals but we cannot forget that we have another very important (league) match on Sunday," he said on the club's website. Pochettino will be mindful of the fact that Barca coach Pep Guardiola left his three most prolific goalscorers out of the starting line-up for the first leg at the Olympic Stadium. Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi were all on target again at the weekend in the 4-1 thrashing of Numancia but only Messi saw action in last week's Cup first leg, coming on with around 15 minutes left. BAD TASTE Valencia and Sevilla play Thursday's other quarter-final second leg in Sevilla with Valencia holding a 3-2 advantage from a hard-fought first leg at the Mestalla. The pair have to pick themselves up after both lost in the Primera Liga on Sunday, Sevilla going down 2-0 at home to Racing Santander and Valencia losing 3-1 at Real Mallorca. Valencia striker Juan Mata said the players were determined to put in a much better performance than at the weekend, when he said they simply were not good enough. "We were left with a bad taste in our mouths because things just did not go well," he told a news conference on Monday. Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez said he was worried that Valencia might be better prepared having opted to rest some key players on Sunday, including striker David Villa, winger Joaquin and midfielder David Albelda. "But we have to find some energy from somewhere and get the win because we owe it to our fans who are unhappy," Jimenez said on the club's website. In Wednesday's two second legs, Mallorca hold a 1-0 advantage over Real Betis ahead of their tie in Seville, while Athletic Bilbao travel to Sporting Gijon following a 0-0 draw in the first leg. The semi-finals take place over two legs in the first weeks of February and March and the final is in Valencia on May 13.
27 January 2009
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