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Falcao can destroy us, fears Xavi

Barcelona: Atletico Madrid have a second chance to prove they can be considered a real contender for the Spanish league title when they visit high-flying Barcelona on Sunday. Two weeks ago, Atletico flopped in their 0-2 loss at Real Madrid in the first serious test of their championship credentials.

Now Diego Simeone’s side will have to find a way to slow down Barcelona’s league-record start and forward Lionel Messi, who is looking to pad his single-year milestone of 88 goals in 2012.

“Simeone told us that we have a debt to pay for the game we played in the Bernabeu (against Madrid),” Atletico midfielder Gabi Fernandez said. “We didn’t play the game we needed to against Madrid. We hope we can do so this time at Barcelona.”

Third-placed Real Madrid will host struggling Espanyol earlier on Sunday.

Unbeaten Barcelona have a six-point lead over Atletico and an 11-point lead over Real Madrid entering round 16.

The match at Camp Nou Stadium will feature the league’s two leading scorers.

Messi has found the back of the net a competition-best 23 times through 15 games, while Atletico’s Radamel Falcao scored five times last weekend to take his total to 16.

“We have been trying for 10 years to figure out (how to stop Messi), but it is tough because he is such a dangerous player once he has the ball,” Gabi said. “The only way is to help one another and to play as a unit, trying to prevent him from being able to attack us one-on-one.”

Barcelona have won the previous four meetings, with Atletico’s last victory at Barcelona in the 2005-06 season. Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said Atletico will “be a rival for the title until the end of the season.”

“The game against Atletico is one of the most attractive matches in the league. They are playing like their coach wants, (and) Falcao can decide the match. He can destroy us.” (agencies)