Barcelona's Koeman criticises two-game ban as 'personal' ahead of critical title clash

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has said his two-game touchline ban is "personal" ahead of Saturday's crucial game against La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Koeman was sent off for saying "Vaya personaje!" ["What a character!"] to the fourth official as Barca lost to Granada last week.

He served the first of his two-game ban against Valencia on Sunday and is set to serve the second against Atletico this weekend in a game that could have huge implications on the title race in Spain.

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"I feel it is something personal, yes," Koeman said in a news conference on Friday. "I don't think what I said is insulting. It is not a reason to ban someone for two games. So, there is something else [in it]."

After having an initial appeal against the ban rejected by the Royal Spanish Football Federation, Barca have taken the issue to the Administrative Court for Sport, but have not yet received a response.

Koeman has complained about referees throughout the season and put pressure on Saturday's referee Mateu Lahoz when asked if he thought the match officials could have a big say in the outcome of the game.

"I hope he makes the right decisions, but we don't have to think too much about it because we can't change anything," he said. "I hope that the referee and the VAR are fair for Barca and for Atletico."

Barca trailed Atletico by 10 points in January but will move above them if they win, although they will still need Real Madrid, who host fourth-placed Sevilla on Sunday, to slip up before the end of the season to win the title.

Madrid are level on points with Barca, two back from long-time leaders Atletico, and in the event they finish joint top, the head-to-head record between the two sides would decide who wins the title.

"We have made up a lot of ground in terms of points to be where we are, fighting for the title, something we didn't expect three or four months ago to be able to fight for the title," Koeman added.

"I don't think the result [against Atletico] will be decisive for the title because there are three games left after but I am convinced that if we win our last four games, we will be champions."

Saturday also sees a return to Barcelona for Luis Suarez, whose 19 goals have helped keep Atletico at the top of the league heading into the final four games of the season.

"It will be strange for Suarez and also for our players because he spent a long time playing for Barca," Koeman said. "But we are all professionals. There is no need to go round in circles. The important thing is to focus on the game."

Earlier, Atletico coach Diego Simeone denied that Koeman's ban would be an advantage for Atletico before insisting there was "no comparison" with the 2014 title race, when his team last won La Liga with a 1-1 final day draw at Camp Nou.

"The season was at its end then and both teams went into a game where one would be champion," he said. "This time, there are still a lot of points at stake. Honestly, there's no comparison.

"We'll face a team [Barca] who have recovered a lot of points and are having a good second half of the season, with a great job from their coach to sort out what had happened in the first half [of the campaign]. We'll have to take the game to places where we think we can hurt them."

In 29 games as a coach, Simeone's beaten Barca four times, including in the reverse fixture this season, but his Atletico side have never previously won at Camp Nou.

"There's a first time for everything," he added.

Alex Kirkland contributed information to this report.