Koke: Barcelona clash won't decide title

The midfielder says victory on Saturday will count for nothing if their form fades during the season and warns they must not focus solely on Lionel Messi
Atletico Madrid star Koke believes Saturday's encounter with Barcelona will not decide the Liga title.

The two sides head into the clash at the Vicente Calderon deadlocked on 49 points after 18 games at the summit of the table.

However, Koke, who scored in Atleti's 1-0 victory over Malaga last weekend, which briefly put Diego Simeone's side clear at the top, insists nothing will be decided by the weekend's tantalising clash.

"Whoever is top halfway through the season is incidental if you don't fulfill your objectives come the end of the season. The second half of the season is going to be a long one. If we win on Saturday and then implode, it will mean nothing," he told reporters.

"I think we are very well prepared for the game. Of course, we've played some tough games recently, such as the one with Malaga, as well as Valencia, but they [Barca] have also had to play during the week.

"Up to now we still haven't decided how we are going to approach the game because we've just had one recovery session [after the Copa del Rey match with Valencia].

"We played well in both Supercopa matches. To play well against Barcelona you have to work very hard, close them down, be tight at the back and be strong on the counterattack.

"We have to try as hard as possible to take the ball off them. But we all know that it's difficult to do that against them."

Lionel Messi will by vying for a starting place after making an emphatic comeback from injury on Wednesday.

The Argentine ace came on as a substitute against Getafe in the Copa del Rey and scored a superb double, firmly putting him in contention for a start against Atletico, particularly with Neymar struggling with gastroenteritis.

"I don't know if Messi will play or not," Koke said.

"If he does, we know he's the best player in the world. They have a number of the best players in the world in their team, Neymar, Messi and others."