Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has hinted that it will be easier for his team to face Barcelona on January 8 without having to worry about Lionel Messi.
Simeone would have been one of the countless Argentina fans cheering when the forward lifted the 2022 FIFA World Cup trophy in Qatar.
However, the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) man was notably a menace for Los Colchoneros to deal with during his time in Spain. During his illustrious time at Barcelona, he scored 32 goals and provided nine assists in 43 games against Atletico Madrid across competitions.
He was on the losing end just eight times against them. Messi, however, failed to make any sort of impact against them in the 2020-21 campaign, his last in Spain.
He blanked both times as his team managed just one out of a possible six points against them in the league. However, the threat the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner carries to the opposition whenever he plays is undeniable.
Simeone was asked ahead of his side's La Liga clash against the Blaugrana if it would be easier to face them without Messi. The Argentine tactician replied (h/t MadridUniversal):
“Where Messi is will always be decisive, be it in the national team, in his current team or Barcelona. With a player of Leo’s characteristics, there is a chance to win.”
The two sides face each other at the Wanda Metropolitano on January 8 as they look to secure all three points for their respective causes.
Barcelona have 38 points from 15 league matches - the same as Real Madrid - but the Catalan giants lead on superior goal difference.
Atletico, meanwhile, will want to ensure they maintain or extend the two-point lead they have over fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao. The former are placed fourth in the table with 27 points to their name.
Lionel Messi has no plans to return to Barcelona
He is in the final six months of his contract at the Parc des Princes and Barca president Joan Laporta is desperate for him to return to Spotify Camp Nou. However, he reportedly has no plans to return to the Catalan club.
According to MARCA, the Argentine is set to extend his contract at PSG for another season. This will deal a hammer blow to Barca's ambitions of re-signing the 35-year-old.
However, one can expect this transfer saga to kickstart again once Messi's potential new contract at PSG expires, whenever that may be.