Barcelona pull clear as Messi brilliance edges out Atletico

Messi’s strike in vain as controversial penalty helps Las Palmas hold Barcelona in La Liga

DESIREE MARTIN?AFP

Lionel Messi (R) scores a freekick during the Spanish league football match against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 04, 2018.

"There is no player like Messi in the world", Valverde said.

Barca lead the way in La Liga by just five points now after dropping points against Las Palmas in midweek, and the Blaugrana are in for their toughest game of the season - certainly on paper - when Atleti come to town.

"If we take Messi and put him in an Atletico shirt, we win this match 1-0". Valverde admitted it made winning this weekend's game especially important, given a loss could have seen their advantage hacked down to two points. But, just as Griezmann has been the driving force behind their resurgence, with an outstanding 12 goals in nine games, the 26-year-old will be key again if Atletico are to inflict Barca's first defeat this season. "We will prepare for this match as if it was a final because that's how you should prepare for every match against Atletico".

"They're in good form, but so were Girona and Eibar when we played them".

Before, then, though, Griezmann has unfinished business with Atletico.

Antoine Griezmann has scored seven goals in his last two league games, including four against Leganes on Wednesday, and poses the Madrid side's biggest threat.

Diego Simeone's side had won eight and drawn one of their previous nine in LaLiga, but their momentum was halted by another milestone moment for the majestic Messi.

Valverde admitted he still had no idea why the official had awarded the penalty, with his own players also unsure over the reason behind the decision. This time it's us who have the long journey and who play a day later than Atletico.

There appear to be few doubts in the Atletico starting 11 with Thomas Partey earning a place alongside Gabi Fernandez in central midfield, while Barca will field their strongest starting 11 with the only doubt being whether Phillipe Coutinho, Ousman Dembele or Paulinho completes a midfield containing Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic.

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