Martino downplays importance of Atletico clash
By Football News
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino says his side's clash against Atletico Madrid will not be decisive in the La Liga title race.
Martino's men lead the league on goal difference ahead of the much-anticipated encounter at the Estadio Vicente Calderon on Saturday.
But, according to Martino, either team could win the title even if they suffer their second defeat of the league campaign.
"I do not think the game against Atletico is decisive for who will win the title," the Argentine coach said.
"We've got a whole half of the season ahead yet. However, I think it is a big test to measure our level not just in La Liga but in Champions League, because both teams are playing there.
"But, obviously, we have 19 games more after the match, so the team that loses it would have time enough to recover itself, even if it is not the ideal situation.
"Of course, I think the game has a great importance in the emotional side, it could provide a lot of momentum and send a very important message to the other teams."
Lionel Messi's return from a hamstring injury – albeit for only 30 minutes in a 4-0 win over Getafe in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday – has come at the perfect time.
The Argentine netted a brace after coming on in the 64th minute but Martino is unsure whether the superstar is fit enough to start at Atletico.
"Lionel Messi is fine. All of you could see it in the previous game. He has done 30 amazing minutes against Getafe but it is true he comes off the back of a long time of inactivity," Martino said.
"We have to evaluate if he is ready to play a full game of this characteristics. For the moment he is all right, he is with the group that travel to Madrid and we'll decide it tomorrow whether he will play or not in the game."
Martino believes Barca are playing the best they have this campaign ahead of the top-of-the-table clash.
"I feel that right now the players are in the best form of the season so far. I think we are in our best moment of the season and we are getting results," he said.
"The footballers are fit, probably their best state since La Liga started. There is a down side though as this situation makes it very difficult to choose which of the players will start the important match we have on Saturday."