Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois says he is not afraid of facing Lionel Messi as his side prepare to take on Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Sunday evening.
Messi took his calendar-year goals total to 88 with a brace in Barca's 2-0 Copa del Rey win at Cordoba on Wednesday, but the on-loan Chelsea man said he had no special fear of what the Argentine might do to him this weekend.
"I am not scared of anyone," Courtois said. "It is up to us to focus on playing as well as possible at a ground as difficult as (the Camp Nou). Barcelona have a group of very good footballers."
Courtois was beaten by Cristiano Ronaldo's long range free-kick in Atletico's 2-0 loss at Real Madrid a fortnight ago, but has since reacted by keeping consecutive clean sheets in La Liga against Deportivo la Coruna and Getafe in the Copa del Rey.
The Belgian international said that coach Diego Simeone demands every single Atletico player works hard to ensure they do not concede.
"It is important for the team that we keep clean sheets and we are doing that well," Courtois said. "That is not just down to the keeper, the team, from the first to the last, helps a lost in defensive work." Atletico travel to Catalonia in second place in the Primera Division standings, just six points behind Barcelona, who have a made a record-breaking start to the season under new coach Tito Vilanova.
Barca's Javier Mascherano told Catalan radio on Thursday night that for him both Atletico and Real Madrid (in third, a further five points back) were still very much in the title race.
"The two are rivals, just because Madrid are 11 points behind we will not take them for dead," Mascherano told RAC 1. "Many people thought Atletico were going to fall back, but we have already played 14 games and they are at just six.
"Barca have made the best ever start to a season, so (Atletico's) is also one of the best. They must be respected. Knowing the mentality of their coach, Atletico will not stop fighting. We would be very mistaken to underestimate them."
When asked about Messi's recent goalscoring achievements, the former West Ham and Liverpool player likened his team-mate to both a hitman and a top golfer.
"He is a footballing assassin," Mascherano said. "He goes onto the pitch to collect victims. That is a great virtue. He likes playing football, and does not care who he is playing against. He competes against himself. He has reached this level. He seems more like a golfer than a footballer, every day he is trying to lower his handicap."
Messi's attitude had not changed since he passed Gerd Muller's calendar year record last weekend, Mascherano said.
"There are forwards who do not reach 88 goals in their full career, and he has done it in a year," he said. "Furthermore he never changes his approach. You never see him obsessed. It all comes out naturally."