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PREVIEW: Pique sees Cup as chance to get back on track

Reuters
Barcelona's Gerard Pique attends a news conference after a training session at Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper in Sant Joan Despi near Barcelona
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Barcelona's Gerard Pique attends a news conference after a training session at Ciutat Esportiva Joan …

By Tim Hanlon

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona have an ideal opportunity to lift their sagging morale and return to winning ways when they face lower league side Cartagena away in the King's Cup, according to defender Gerard Pique.

The La Liga champions will take part in the fourth round of the Cup as the top flight Spanish league takes a break from action this weekend.

Barcelona recently lost 2-1 at Ajax Amsterdam in the Champions League before going down 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao in the La Liga.

"In Cartagena, we want to demonstrate that we are not in the deep depression that it appears and that we can lift ourselves and get back to winning," Pique told a news conference.

"It is a good chance to play a good game again and that will build our confidence and morale.

"We either sink or we respond. We are getting better all the time but we need to improve our confidence and in games we have not been able to fight back which has been a problem.

"There have been ups and down like in Amsterdam which was unacceptable."

The defeats have added fire to the constant debate about the more direct approach of coach Gerardo Martino and also over the training methods with a recent spate of injuries to the players, including Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

The centre back defended the Argentine coach, who took over from Tito Vilanova.

"It is impossible to press the whole game and before we had the ball and we were able to rest in possession," Pique said. "Now it is more difficult but the team still wants to press.

"Our aim is always to be at our best when we are fighting for the titles and it is not possible to maintain that level throughout the season.

"The coach has known how to adapt to the Barca style and support the people that were already here. We should be grateful that he has done that and been prepared to change his approach."

For footballers plying their trade in the lower echelons of the game, the Cup offers the unique chance to pit their skills against the best.

It is a similar story for the players of Olimpic de Xativa, another third tier side, who face Real Madrid on Saturday.

Olimpic left-back Jose Peris works on a market stall and it is a dream come true for him to face the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

"I keep on waking up at three in the morning and my girlfriend said to me 'what are you doing Jose?' and I told her 'I don't know whose shirt to ask for'," Peris told Spanish daily Marca.

Real will arrive having won their last seven games in all competitions, scoring 30 goals in the process, but Peris is not ready to give up hope.

"In the Murta (stadium) we can scrape something," he added.

Atletico Madrid have made a fine start to the season and will play another third-tier side, Sant Andreu, as they start the defence of their title.

"We are looking forward to the match on Saturday," defender Juanfran Torres told Marca. "It'll be great to start again, have some good games and see how far we can go."

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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