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The Elche boss insists that the Blaugrana have not dropped their standards since their former coach's departure but believes that his side still have a chance of getting a result

Fran Escriba claims that Barcelona are still as formidable an opponent as they were under Pep Guardiola as Elche prepare to face the Catalans.

The Blaugrana go into Sunday's match at Camp Nou, their first league game of the New Year, looking to regain top spot in La Liga after Atletico Madrid's 1-0 win over Malaga on Saturday.

However, though the Barcelona side under Pep Guardiola has been hailed as one of club football's greatest ever, Escriba feels that the current crop of players have proved that they are no worse than they were in that period by continuing to win in the absence of Lionel Messi.

"I believe this Barcelona team is as good as Guardiola's," the 48-year-old was quoted as saying by Marca. "They've been without the best player in the world but have still managed to keep winning. It's an extraordinary team.

"This is one of the games you really want to play in but we know it is going to be very tough ... but not impossible to come away with any points."

Messi has not featured since Barcelona's 4-1 win over Real Betis in November and will not be fit to return against Elche after his rehabilitation from a hamstring injury but goalkeeper Victor Valdes has been named in the squad by Gerardo Martino.

"If they recover, it won't be the best piece of news for us but Barcelona are as good without them," Escriba responded when asked about the possibility of the duo returning.

"I really don't care if they play."

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