Diego Simeone suggested it would be difficult for any team not to be hampered by the loss of Lionel Messi, ahead of Atletico Madrid’s clash with Barcelona.
LaLiga leaders Barca travel to the Spanish capital on Sunday in the headline fixture of the weekend.
Barca struggled last season under Ronald Koeman in the wake of Messi’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain, though recovered under Xavi to finish second in LaLiga.
The Blaugrana are well set for a title challenge this term, with Robert Lewandowski having hit the ground running, but they have faltered in Europe, crashing out of the Champions League at the group stage for a second straight season.
Asked if Barca were a less-threatening side without Messi, Simeone told reporters: “Where Messi is will always be decisive, be it in the national team, in his current team or in Barcelona.
“With a player of Leo’s characteristics there is a better chance of winning.”
Simeone compared Messi’s influence on teams to that of the late Diego Maradona, who the Atletico coach played with at the 1994 World Cup.
“When I played the World Cup with Maradona, already a veteran, there was a feeling that it is difficult for us to lose, because we have the best,” Simeone added.
“And if you have the best it is easier to win.”
Simeone will be glad he no longer has to face Messi domestically, given the Barca great scored 26 goals in 30 LaLiga appearances against Atletico, who realistically need a victory on Sunday to keep any slim hopes of a title push alive.
“We face all the games and we want to see them as if it were a final,” Simeone said.
“The next game in Almeria will be in the same and so on. There is no bigger game than the one you have to play [next].
“Barcelona are doing very well in the league, [have] a coach with clear ideas and they play very well.”
Joao Felix’s future appears up in the air, with Atleti willing to let the Portugal forward leave the club in January.
Asked if the Barca match provides a big stage for Joao Felix to impress on, Simeone elected not to focus on the individual.
“It is a good opportunity for the team,” he said. “We continue to grow, improve as a team and capture what we want in the game.”
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