Barcelona - Javier Mascherano believes that hard work rather than talent has made him a crucial player for Barcelona, who aim to finish the year on a high by closing the gap on Real Madrid at the top of La Liga with a victory over Cordoba on Saturday.
From Pep Guardiola to Luis Enrique, all the coaches Mascherano has worked under during his four years at Barca have relied on his graft and discipline, and the King's Cup win over Huesca on Tuesday marked the Argentine's 200th appearance.
Barca have been in transition under Luis Enrique this season but the defensive midfielder/centre back remains one of the first names on the team sheet and the side looked to his composure and leadership when their form stuttered early on.
Real have a four-point lead over Barcelona but while they are away looking to extend their winning run to 22 matches in the final of the Club World Cup this weekend, the Catalan side can close the gap before the Christmas break.
"I've always identified myself as a worker," Mascherano told the club website.
"I am someone that perhaps wasn't born with the same talent as other top players but I have always put in a lot of hard work and that has taken me to where I am now.
"Barca is the biggest club that I have been at and to move here (from Liverpool) was the most important decision in my career as I arrived at the top. The demands of this club are the maximum that can be asked of a footballer."
Jeremy Mathieu was brought in to boost the defensive line this season but in the important matches, it has either been the Frenchman or Gerard Pique that have played alongside Mascherano.
"I don't give much importance to statistics but to reach 200 games for this club is not easy with the competition internal and external," Mascherano added.
"All the time you are being tested because all players want to come here. I never would have imagined that I would play this number of games and it is due to the work."
Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid slipped seven points off the pace after losing against Villarreal last weekend and the champions will be looking to stay in the title race with a victory over Athletic Bilbao.