Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone insists his side hold no fear towards Lionel Messi and instead praised the work of his Barcelona counterpart Ernesto Valverde.
Los Colchoneros will head over to Camp Nou on Saturday needing victory to retain hope of winning La Liga this season.
Despite making up some ground on Barcelona in Tuesday’s 2-0 win against Girona, Atletico still trail the Blaugrana by eight points in the standings with just eight games to spare.
However, Simeone’s side look set to have their work cut out in containing an in-form Messi. The Argentine forward has scored nine goals in his last five games for Barcelona and was named La Liga’s player of the month for March.
“The word isn’t ‘fear’, but respect,” replied Simeone on AOL, when asked about Messi.
Instead, the 48-year-old reflected on the work Valverde has achieved over the past year at Barcelona.
“There is a seniority Barcelona have, and what I would call the incredible work the coach is doing, keeping them alive in three competitions,” he continued.
“Last season, they went through in Rome what happened to us in Turin [when Atleti lost 3-0 to Juventus], and they couldn’t win everything, but they tried for the treble.
“Now, they have an enviable position in the league, in the Champions League… it’s difficult to be a team like that and keep winning. Valverde, with his style of play, is having an amazing season.”
In 24 matches against Barcelona as a coach, Simeone has only registered two wins and suffered 13 defeats.
Meanwhile, the last time Atletico claimed a La Liga win at Camp Nou came in February 2006 under Jose Murcia.
“The fact we never win makes me super optimistic, of course!” said Simeone on this worrying statistic.
“If we win and then don’t win the next games, it won’t matter at all. We have to focus on trying to keep improving.
“It makes me feel good that Barca believe we are their closest competitors. That speaks well of our players.”
Chelsea loanee Alvaro Morata is expected to miss out this weekend due to an ankle injury. Although Diego Costa may return from a hamstring problem.
Meanwhile, Colombian Santiago Arias has returned to fitness and could get the nod over Juanfran at the right-back spot.
The Barcelona and Atletico match will begin at 20:45 (CET).