Diego Simeone says Barcelona remain the best team in the world, despite the recent struggles that have seen Luis Enrique come under intense pressure.
Atletico welcome Barca to the Vicente Calderon on Sunday and do so with the Catalan club having followed up a 4-0 Champions League defeat to Paris Saint-Germain with an unconvincing 2-1 home win over Leganes.
Barca required a late Lionel Messi penalty to see off Leganes, yet Simeone believes their status as the top team in world football is undoubted and pointed to their 3-2 Copa del Rey semi-final aggregate win over Atletico as evidence.
"It is very difficult to compete as they have competed in the last decade," Simeone told a media conference.
"They have won 12 titles with Luis Enrique, they have always competed at the best level and I believe a bad match can be had by anyone, like they did in Paris.
"We played three extraordinary halves and we are out of the cup. They are better."
A victory for Barca would see them leapfrog Madrid - who face Villarreal later on Sunday - while Atletico have the chance to pull within four points of their city rivals.
Simeone continued: "We went to press it up and they scored two goals in 20 minutes in the cup in the Calderon.
"In the second half we were close to hurting them. They remain the best team in the world. We will find enthusiasm after the defeat of Madrid and the possibility of again fighting for the league. We are ready to meet the best Barcelona."
With four teams in contention for the title, Simeone does think La Liga is improving, adding: "The league always depends on what Real Madrid and Barcelona do because they are superior.
"The league is improving, because after Atletico won the league, there are teams like Sevilla who allow themselves to dream of this possibility.
"Villarreal grows, Real grows, Valencia will return... It's a super competitive league at the expense of Madrid and Barcelona, who are aspiring to win the Champions League every year. "