Gerardo Martino is confident Lionel Messi will be fit to face Atletico Madrid, but will not take chances on the Barcelona forward's fitness.
Argentine superstar Messi has not played since suffering a hamstring tear against Real Betis on November 10.
However, he returned to training earlier this week and is on course to feature when Barca travel to Madrid next week for a top-of-the-table La Liga clash.
Despite expressing his belief that Messi will play a part at Vicente Calderon, Barca head coach Martino will not be tempted into selecting his star man if he is not fully fit.
"I sincerely believe that Lionel Messi will be fit for the Atletico Madrid fixture. But I am not going to play anyone who is not fully recovered from an injury," Martino said after Sunday's 4-0 home win over Elche.
"I won't modify this principle depending on the team we face."
Martino believes Atletico, who have matched Barca by dropping just five points in 18 league games, have to be considered genuine contenders for silverware this season.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone has suggested his side will struggle to keep pace with the reigning champions, but Martino is expecting a stiff test.
"We know how important the game against Atletico is," added the 51-year-old.
"Regardless of what Simeone says, Atletico is in top form, has great players and is one of the main contenders for La Liga and Champions League titles.
"If you were a spy inside Atletico Madrid's locker room you would heard that they have great expectations for this season.
"It's fine that Barcelona and Real Madrid have all the pressure, but Atletico can achieve great things.
"However, the fact that we play against Atletico won't change our principle of starting those who are fit."
Messi could yet feature in Wednesday's Copa del Rey tie against Getafe.
"As I said, Messi is really well," added Martino.
"We have to talk to each other to see how he feels because he has to get over his mentality too; he has to feel ready 100 per cent.
"I think now that is the most important because maybe he is now a bit afraid of getting another injury and once he gets over that he will start to play."comments