UPDATE: Sky Sports reports that Lionel Messi will play.
One piece of team news is dominating the pre-match discussion before Bayern Munich host Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal: whether Lionel Messi be fit to start for the visitors.
Put simply, it is hard to imagine the Argentinian not being named in the lineup. It is has been two weeks since a barely half-fit Messi played through a hamstring injury picked up the previous week to inspire Barcelona to edge past Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals.
Messi has been rested since, but, despite returning to training last week, assistant coach Jordi Roura said a late decision will be made on the forward’s fitness.
“Messi is improving and is getting better but we will have to see what the doctor says,” he said, according to UEFA’s official Web site. “He is a great player because he can dictate games. We hope he will be fine tomorrow.
“The team plays better because of a player like Messi and he can be decisive in matches. It would be important to have him on the pitch but we have showed often enough that we also can win without him.”
But, Messi is far from Barcelona’s only fitness concern. Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano both remain injured and another center-back option, Adriano, is suspended. That could well mean a rare start for 22-year-old Marc Bartra.
“Bartra is a really good option for us, he could play,” Roura explained. “He is an option but we have not decided already.”
Bayern will also be missing important personnel. Influential midfielder Toni Kroos has been ruled out for the rest of the season after rupturing an abductor muscle in the first-leg of Bayern’s quarterfinal win over Juventus.
That absence looks set to mean Thomas Muller moving inside from the right and Arjen Robben coming into the side.
Also missing will be Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic. While alternatives Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizarro have both been in fine form of late, Gomez looks set to get the nod.
Coach Jupp Heynckes, however, stated on Monday that he has yet to make a decision.
“I have two great goal-scorers, Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizarro,” he said. “It is a great feeling to have those two players in my team and I will talk to them today and we will see who is going to play.”
Bayern Munich (probable)
D: Lahm, Van Buyten, Dante, Alaba
M: Schweinsteiger, Martinez
Robben, Muller, Ribery
D: Alves, Pique, Bartra, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
Villa, Messi, Pedro
Where to watch: The Champions League semifinal first leg will kick-off from the Allianz Arena at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream provided by Fox Soccer 2Go.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.