• Champions League

Vilanova defiant in face of Lionel Messi injury

ESPN staff
December 6, 2012

Tito Vilanova has rejected claims that he took a risk by playing Lionel Messi in Barcelona's 0-0 draw with Benfica, insisting it was part of a fitness plan, not an attempt to break records.

Messi, 25, was stretchered off in the latter stages of the stalemate at Camp Nou, with Barcelona later confirming the Argentine suffered a 'contusion on the outside of his left knee'. Further tests will determine the severity of Messi's injury, although early reports suggest there is no serious damage.

Vilanova swiftly responded to questions about his decision to use Messi as a second-half substitute while resting six Barcelona regulars. He claims it was not about allowing the striker to close in on Gerd Muller's goalscoring record. Messi is one goal behind Muller's record of 85 goals in a calendar year.

"Muller's record? Everyone but Messi talks about that," Vilanova said. "If he was focused on it he'd have played from the start.

"Messi playing 30 minutes was talked through, it was part of his physical training programme. You can also get injured in training. I gave him the last 30 minutes because it was a good workout and he loves competing. I would do it again.

"Messi was a bit worried, which is normal when you don't know what it is. After the first tests by the doctors, he was calm.

"[People say] we should sub him out every time we're leading 3-0 lest he picks up an injury. We've never behaved this way. If I had a do-over I'd make the same decision seeing that he can get injured at any moment."

Barca defender Carlos Puyol has thrown his support behind Messi, describing the injury as a major blow for the La Liga leaders.

"Lionel Messi is undergoing some tests, but hopefully it is not anything [serious]," he said. "Clearly this is the worst news of the night and hopefully he will be back with us at 100 per cent. We tried to play as we can, we tried, we made chances and it was an open game."

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