• La Liga

Messi cleared for Barcelona return

ESPN staff
January 7, 2014
ESPNFC: battle for top spot in La Liga

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has confirmed that Lionel Messi will return to the squad for Wednesday's Copa del Rey clash with Getafe.

Messi returned to full training with his teammates last week, but sat out Sunday's4-0 Primera Division home win over Elche, after which Martino suggested that the attacker still had some doubts over his fitness having suffered so many similar thigh muscle set-backs during 2013.

Martino told a news conference on Tuesday that a few more training sessions had helped Messi to build up the fitness needed to return after 58 days on the sidelines.

"What has changed is that he has a few training sessions done now," Martino said. "Before the Elche game he had only two or three, and now he has trained some more days and has done a period of good work. All he needs to do now is take part in a competitive game.

"This was the normal way to do things, and everything should hopefully continue as normal from now on. We will find out tomorrow if Messi starts or not."

Martino said any player who had been through a frustrating spell of injuries needed confirmation they were fully fit again.

"When a player who has had many injuries in a short amount of time, there can be doubts in their head," he said. "I have spoken with him, he is fine now, so he is back in the squad. Maybe he is lacking some match fitness, but that does not matter with him. It just matters that he is fit again."

With Saturday's huge game at La Liga co-leaders Atletico Madrid looming, Martino is expected to shuffle his pack, with cup goalkeeper Jose Pinto, Neymar, Javier Mascherano, Adriano Correia, Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Cristian Tello among those who might also come in.

Martino said he would not be thinking at all about Saturday when picking his team for Wednesday's game.

"We can think about the game against Atletico Madrid on Thursday and Friday," Martino said. "You can believe me or not when I say this. People are talking more about Saturday's game outside than inside. This squad does not think beyond a game as important as this is a Copa del Rey match where we cannot make mistakes."

However, he was happy to praise the work done by fellow Argentine Diego Simeone at Atletico.

"Atletico Madrid has improved a lot in his time in charge," Martino said. "He has reinforced the squad - it is up to competing for the biggest trophies. Maybe if you analyse them individually, they are different than Madrid or Barca, but also different from other 16 teams in La Liga."

Xavi Hernandez, Marc Bartra and Dani Alves have not been included in the 18-man panel for the Getafe game. Martino explained that in all three cases there were no serious injury issues, but he did not want to take any risks.

"In Marc's case he had a problem in his posterior - it was examined and there was nothing, but this is not the moment to take risks," he said. "With Xavi, and the problems he had with a calf muscle last year, we understand we should take care with him. With Dani, a few more days of training will be the best for him."

Barca played at Getafe in their final game of 2013, falling behind 2-0 early before roaring back to win 5-2. Martino said he did not expect his players to start as sluggishly this time.

"We want to play like the final 70 minutes, and not the first 20, when we were not aggressive or intense enough," he said. "That is the only period like that in the last six or seven games. That can also be analysed as a virtue of the opponent - and Getafe played very well in those 20 minutes."

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