'We don't fear Messi, we respect Valverde's Barcelona' - Simeone hails 'incredible' Blaugrana boss

lionel messi - cropped
Getty Images
Rather than focus on the threat of the Argentine star, the Los Colchoneros boss chose to praise the work of Ernesto Valverde at Camp Nou

Diego Simeone has dismissed the notion of Atletico Madrid fearing Lionel Messi in Saturday's clash with Barcelona, instead choosing to praise the "incredible work" of opposite number Ernesto Valverde.

Atleti head to Camp Nou trailing the leaders by eight points in the table, meaning anything less than a win is likely to end their hopes of winning La Liga.

Barca's latest treble charge has been spearheaded by Messi, who has scored 42 goals in 39 appearances across all competitions in another spectacular season.

But, rather than focus on the fearsome form of the Argentina talisman, Simeone is keen to highlight the work of Valverde, especially in light of the disappointment of last term's shock Champions League quarter-final exit at the hands of Roma.

Ernesto Valverde Barcelona 2018-19

When asked about Messi, Simeone told a news conference: "The word isn't 'fear', but respect.

"There is a seniority Barcelona have, and what I would call the incredible work the coach is doing, keeping them alive in three competitions.

"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."

Messi has scored six times from direct free-kicks this season, including once in each of his last three league appearances, while the 20 goals he has managed from set-pieces in the last five seasons is almost double the number of any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

"That's pure quality," was Simeone's assessment.

Simeone has failed to win any of his 14 league meetings with Barca as Atleti head coach, while their last league win at Camp Nou came under Jose Murcia in February 2006.

However, the former midfielder is more concerned about taking maximum points from all of their remaining games, not only the clash on Saturday, for which he expects to have Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata fit and ready.

Article continues below

"The fact we never win makes me super optimistic, of course!" he said.

"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."