Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez says that speculation he could be sacked after Wednesday afternoon's La Liga game at home to Real Sociedad is fuelled by a local media "campaign" against both him and club president Florentino Perez.
With Benitez's future being widely questioned around the Spanish capital, there has been mounting speculation that the now-available Jose Mourinho could be back in the Bernabeu hotseat as early as this week.
Madrid's players are also reportedly unhappy with Benitez's methods, with AS claiming that while Benitez was spending Christmas with his family on Merseyside, dressing room heavyweights spoke with B-team coach Zinedine Zidane about stepping up to the first team job.
The Blancos coach told his pregame news conference that much of the news coverage of the club and his position was "invented and manipulated."
"What is clear is that, there is a campaign against Florentino, against Real Madrid, against the coach of Real Madrid," he said. "From there, all that can be criticised is criticised, and then there are things invented and manipulated.
"Anyone with experience can see that. Many people question my CV, after spending 11 years outside Spain. But we all know we must do a bit more, starting from me, then see what success comes. And judgement will happen at the end of the season."
Benitez also rejected local media reports that he has had trouble with players including Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Marcelo, Karim Benzema, Isco and Jese.
"The relationship with the squad is infinitely better than what you read in the papers," he said. "Among a squad of 24 there are some players who are happier than others, but that happens in every club.
"It seems that every technical decision is a personal call against the player -- and speculation starts from there. The campaign is clear, anyone can see that.
"I cannot play with 12, but interpretation taken depends on whether you want to do damage or not. I cannot lose time on that, must focus on getting performance from my team."
There was tumult before the winter break at the Bernabeu during the 10-2 defeat of Rayo Vallecano, with Madrid fans whistling their own team at 2-1 down, and then cheering on the visitors' nine men at times in the second half.
"The team has done some things well, so they won many games," he said. "And some things not so well. They must focus on tomorrow's game. We must motivate the fans with our good play, attitude and commitment.
"That is what Real Madrid fans want; nothing else. I have spoken about the words of the club anthem -- we must play well, work hard, win games. The fans must help us, and they will help us."
Benitez said he had not been worried about his future as speculation had raged about Mourinho and Zidane as he spent the winter break in England with his family.
"I was with my family, relaxed at home, nothing else," he said. "They were short holidays, as playing on Dec. 30 changes things. But I enjoyed the short time I had with my family.
"Fortunately the English press does not exaggerate so much like here where every tweet it seems the country's foundations are shaking. I was just thinking about what to do to beat Real Sociedad, and then to win trophies this year, and all years we can be here."
Other reports that the club had surveyed supporters to get views on potential replacements were also played down by Benitez.
"From the start I knew I was coming to such a big club, where everything is magnified, for good or bad," he said. "[Such surveys] happen every month, but this time the media publishes it for their own campaign.
"I have had regular conversations with the president, and he has been here chatting with the players. Our relationship is normal, fluid, friendly. I know what football is like, what Madrid is like, and also know the solutions.
"We are through in the Champions League, two points behind the Liga leaders with a game more played. When this situation happens, you must focus on your work, to win the next game."
Real Sociedad have lost their last five visits to the Bernabeu, conceding at least four goals on each occasion.
- Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) December 29, 2015
Madrid captain Ramos is out of Wednesday's game with a calf muscle problem, but right-back Dani Carvajal is fit again and in contention to feature for the first time since November.
Benitez said the attitude at training since the return after Christmas had been positive and that the team were well set to start winning games and lifting the mood, adding: "We are very close to having almost everyone back with us. That is positive as competition between players benefits the group.
"If you want to do something in the league, you must have stability and not be anxious. The training session this morning was intense, the players worked well. The team are much better than people think."