Madrid: FC Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has praised rivals Atletico Madrid ahead of the La Liga game between the two sides.
Barca have a six point lead over Atletico ahead of Sunday night`s match in the Camp Nou Stadium. A win would see them open up a nine point gap.
If Atletico are able to inflict the first defeat of the season on Barca, they would close in with just three points of a side that has dropped just two points in their first 15 games, reports Xinhua.
Vilanova recognised Atletico`s merits in his pre-game press conference.
"Atletico would be leaders any other year, if we had not go so many points, they would be on top," said the Barca coach.
"It`s true they are behind us in the table and it is a vital game, but it would also be vital if we were against any other side.
"We all know it is going to be really difficult, they always complicate matters for us in their ground and also in ours. I respect all that they have done.
"They believe in themselves and that is the most important thing about the team," he said.
Vilanova was asked about Leo Messi`s record of 88 goals in 2012 amid attempts from the Madrid based press to discredit his achievements by saying that the Zambian striker Chitalu once scored 107 goals in a year.
"The Guinness Book of Records accepts Messi`s record. The goals are there for anyone who wants to look at them, I was lucky enough to see them all live and anyone who comes along now is welcome to try and beat the record," he said, before discussing striker David Villa, who is struggling to earn a place in the Barca side.
"He has recovered well from his injury (broken leg) and that is what matters to us. If he has played less than normal it is because he was injured and needed to recover," he said, comparing the Spain international to winger Alexis Sanchez.
"David is a more prolific scorer than Alexis but when we signed Alexis we were looking for players who would add depth and open up space for us," said Vilanova.