Atletico Madrid winger Vitolo says Lionel Messi would be the best in the world even if he was playing with one leg, as Atletico prepare to meet Barcelona in a crunch La Liga clash this weekend.
Top of the table Barca travel to third-place Atletico on Saturday night in a highly-anticipated encounter.
Messi sat out the recent international break so is expected to be fresh heading into the game at the Wanda Metropolitano – an even more ominous sign for an team he has tormented by scoring 28 times against down the years.
Atletico’s Spanish winger Vitolo says his team are “excited” about facing Messi and Co – hailing the Argentinian.
“You could take one of Messi’s legs away and he would still be the best,” he said admiringly, Marca reported.
“Even if he’s not 100 percent fit he can win the game in an instant.”
Atletico right-back Juanfran echoed the danger Messi would pose – saying his team would need to “shut down the space” around the Argentine and pay special attention to Messi’s link-up play with midfielder Jordi Alba.
“We must try to have a great game to win, with a lot of help, pushing ourselves to the limit and leaving little space,” he said.
“The Jordi Alba-Messi connection is very good because they know each other perfectly and we have to be very tight together to stop them.”
While Barca blitzed rivals Real Madrid 5-1 in October – even without an injured Messi – they have not consistently been at their best this season, slipping to two defeats in their 12 league games.
That included last time out, when they suffered a shock 4-3 home defeat to Real Betis.
Diego Simeone’s have lost just one game, although sit a point behind Barcelona in the table after drawing five of their 12 matches.
They have a typically mean defensive record of just eight goals conceded, although they have failed to fire going forward, netting just 16 times in the league – a full 18 goals fewer than their opponents on Saturday.
Atletico would be foolish to disregard other Barca dangermen such as Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, but if they want to leapfrog the Catalans at the top of La Liga, stopping Messi would be a good place to start.