Updated: Tuesday, 01 April 2014 03:00 | By Agence France-Presse

Atletico the Robin Hood of Spain, claims Tiago

Atletico Madrid midfielder Tiago Mendes has compared his side's ability to compete with the far richer Barcelona and Real Madrid this season to the tale of Robin Hood.

Atletico the Robin Hood of Spain, claims Tiago

Atletico Madrid's Portuguese midfielder Tiago Mendes celebrates after scoring at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on September 14, 2013 - by Dani Pozo

Atletico face Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Camp Nou on Tuesday and also lead La Liga ahead of the two traditional giants of Spanish football with just seven games remaining.

Diego Simeone's men have overcome the odds despite having an annual budget of almost 400 million euros ($550 million) less than Barca and Real and Tiago believes people in crisis-hit Spain can associate with the hard work that has taken Atletico to the top.

"I think that we have our own identity. It is very easy for people to identify with us, also because in society we are living through a period of crisis and we are fighting in the Champions League with a much lower budget," he said at his side's pre-match press conference on Monday.

"That is where the similarity between Robin Hood and our team comes from."

Atletico have already faced Barca three times this season, twice in the Spanish Supercup and once in La Liga at the Vicente Calderon back in January.

All three encounters ended in draws, however four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi's involvement in two of those games was limited by injury and Simeone is expecting to face a much stronger Barca side at the Camp Nou this time around.

"Tomorrow will be the most difficult for sure. In the first game in the Supercup we played at home and then they weren't as strong as they are now.

"In the game in La Liga (Lionel) Messi also wasn't at 100 percent. We are going to compete against the best Barcelona side we have faced this season.

"Tomorrow Barcelona will want to finish the tie off and we need to stop them in whatever way we can."

Since making his return from two months out due to a hamstring injury just before the latest clash at the Calderon, Messi has hit top form, scoring nine times in his last five games in all competitions.

The Argentine has now struck 36 times in as many games this season, but Atletico's Diego Costa is only three behind Messi with 33 goals so far this campaign.

And Simeone believes his star man is just as important to Atletico as Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are to Barca and Real Madrid respectively.

"Without doubt (he is just as important). Just like Ronaldo is for Real Madrid or Messi for Barcelona, Diego Costa is for us. Each one has his own style, but they are all fundamental to their teams.

"Tomorrow two players in amazing form will face off. Messi has shown that he has had a good rest in those two months that he didn't play and that is good for us Argentines ahead of the World Cup," he said with a wry smile.

Midfielder Raul Garcia is the only major absence from Simeone's squad as he is suspended so David Villa could come in to start against his former club.

Latest Photo Galleries on xinmsn