Atletico Madrid defender Filipe Luis has accused Spanish league officials of giving Lionel Messi preferential treatment because of his standing in the game - derogatorily branding him 'the protected one'.
Luis, who rejoined Atletico after a failed spell with Chelsea, earned a red card for his tackle on the Argentinian during his side's 2-1 defeat against Barcelona back in January.
While the 30-year-old admitted he deserved a red for his challenge, he insists he sees Messi get favourable treatment compared to other players because the league want to protect their best player from getting hurt.
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Luis believes that the media also play a part in making sure Messi gets more protection than any other player in the league.
He told TV Esporte Interativo: "I admit it was a red card, the referee wasn't wrong. I sought the ball but very aggressively, with a high foot, and Leo was there. It was a fair red, I left the pitch, served a ban and that's it.
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"It's a phase of play which happens in every game, but it happened on Messi. He's protected by the Press and by the League. I believe they don't want one of their best players of all time to be injured and not play. Here he is 'the protected one' by the press and La Liga.
"Obviously nobody wants one of the best players of all time to be out and miss the opportunity to see him playing, that's where all of this came from.
"Still, I slept easily because I didn’t want to hurt him at any time. [On the rematch], I approach every game with the same intensity and try not to be so aggressive in games like these. Many players enter the pitch just to change shirts, but I don't. If you give Messi a metre, he’ll snatch the ball and leave you behind. My objective is to be intense so he can't do anything."
Luis served a three-game ban for his tackle on Messi, and that was his first and only red card of the season, to go alongside his nine yellows.
Since the meeting in January, Barcelona have gone on to establish an eight-point lead at the top of the table from Atletico Madrid, with Real Madrid a further four points adrift.
Messi was on target yet again last night in Barcelona's win against Eibar, bagging a brace in the 4-0 win at the Estadio Municipal de Ipurúa. The 28-year-old now has 21 goals in La Liga - six goals fewer than current leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo and five fewer than team-mate Luis Suarez.
Next up for the Catalan club is a league tie against Getafe, before the second leg of their Champions League last-16 showdown against Arsenal.
Luis Enrique's side are leading 2-0 from the first leg - Messi scored both at the Emirates Stadium last month - and are heavy favourites to get the job done at the Nou Camp next Wednesday.