Lionel Messi could yet be available for Barcelona at Real Betis Balompie tomorrow, despite being stretchered off the field against SL Benfica in the UEFA Champions League.
The league leaders go to Seville looking to defend a six-point advantage over Atletico Madrid and 11 over Real Madrid at the scene of the latter’s latest upset two weeks ago.
Betis beat Real Madrid 1-0 on that occasion and will be formidable opposition for Barca, but Messi himself believes there is plenty of talent in the squad if he is not available to play with what has been diagnosed as a bruised knee.
“The team will be the same, with or without me, there are more than enough players to do the job. I feel fine, but I don’t know yet if I will be available for Sunday,” Messi said.
No decision will be made on Messi’s involvement before he trains today, but the initial fears that he could be out for some time appear to be unfounded.
Within 12 hours of leaving the pitch he was back in the gym doing a recovery session on Thursday, but he explained how he too was worried.
“On the stretcher I thought the worst, of the pain torturing me, of being out for a long time,” he said.
Cesc Fabregas also spoke of being initially worried for the Argentine, but also believes he could still feature at Betis.
“We were worried about Messi, but we’re happy he’s fine now, knowing him, he’ll want to play on Sunday,” Fabregas said.
Messi needs to hit just one more goal to equal Gerd Mueller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year in 1972.
However, with two further La Liga games and a Copa del Rey match to go before the end of the year it would not be a shock to see him rested at Betis as a precaution.
Barca have both Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba available again, and only Alexis Sanchez and Dani Alves are long-term casualties.
Betis midfielder Ruben Perez was full of praise for tomorrow’s opponents.
“They are the best team in the world, they keep the ball all the game and it’s difficult, but we’ll go out looking for points and try to win,” Perez said.
On his own side’s start, that sees Betis fourth on 25 points, he added: “The atmosphere is great and we’ve got some good points so far, we’re up there and we have to keep working hard because in football a bad run can come at any time.”
Behind Barca the two Madrid sides anxiously wait for a slipup.
Atletico entertain RC Deportivo de La Coruna tomorrow, while Real Madrid travel to Real Valladolid today looking to build on a morale-boosting week. The 2-0 derby victory at home to Atletico last Saturday was followed by a 4-1 Champions League mauling of Ajax on Tuesday, with the added bonus of resting several key players.
Captain Iker Casillas is only looking forward as his team battle to stay in the title race.
“We can’t afford the luxury of dropping any more points in the league. Valladolid will be a complicated game for us, they are playing good football and come on the back of a win in Sevilla,” Casillas said.
Michael Essien is back in training for Real Madrid and could feature in Valladolid, but Fabio Coentrao who picked up a muscle injury against Ajax is doubtful.
Felipe Luis and Cristian Rodriguez will not be available for Atletico through injury, and Diego Simeone must lift his side after the derby defeat and Thursday’s 1-0 Europa League loss at Viktoria Plzen that saw the holders qualify second behind the Czech side.