MADRID (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid are facing the biggest crisis of the Diego Simeone era after falling 12 points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid, according to club captain Gabi Fernandez.
Simeone's side lost 3-0 at Villarreal on Monday to fall to sixth in the standings and they have 10 points less than they did at the same stage last season.
"We've had five successful years but this is our most difficult time," Gabi told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.
"Now we are going to see if we are truly a team and if we are capable of pulling out of this situation."
Atletico were unbeaten and led the La Liga standings on Oct 15 but have won just two and lost four of their last seven league games.
"It has become an uphill task," Gabi said of Atletico's title chances. "Things have gone south.
"What is clear is that what we have done so far is not enough to win games and we have to work harder. We can't focus on long-term plans, now more than ever, we have to grab on to Simeone's stance of one game at a time."
One of Spain's strongest sides defensively in recent years, Atletico gave away three goals in their opening eight league games but have conceded 11 in their last seven La Liga matches.
"We must rediscover our defensive solidity which has been our fortress in the past," said Gabi, whose side let in 18 goals in 38 games last season.
"We need to be more united than ever to defend. In terms of our attack, we need to make the most of our chances which we have struggled to do lately."
Atletico have failed to find the back of the net in their last three games in all competitions and France forward Antoine Griezmann, last season's top marksman with 22 league goals, has not scored since Oct 2.
"Simeone tells us that the only way to overcome adversity is through work," Gabi said. "We need a clean slate mentally in order to return as soon as possible to be that ambitious team that is hungry for wins."