Lionel Messi returns to the Barcelona squad for the first time in almost two months for the first leg of the Copa del Rey last-16 tie with Getafe on Wednesday. After recovering from a hamstring tear, the Argentine returned to training last week and is now set to be given the chance to build up some valuable match fitness ahead of the crucial clash with Atletico Madrid on Saturday. With the match against the side level on points with them at the top of La Liga in mind, Messi is likely to be restricted to an appearance off the bench in the second half.
“He feels fine and he’s in the squad,” Barcelona coach Tata Martino said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “Everyone’s fit so that’s good. Leo’s been doing more training sessions. Before the Elche match he’d only trained twice and now he’s done more. He just needs to play a competitive match. It would have been too early to play last Sunday. We’ll see if he starts or not against Getafe.”
For Messi, the match holds further significance in that it was against the same opponents and in the same competition that he announced himself as a true great with his Diego-Maradona-esque solo goal in 2007.
“If he plays hopefully he’ll score one like he did before against Getafe,” Martino added. “Messi gives everybody confidence and makes us better. Everyone feels better with him alongside them. At the decisive moments having Messi and the whole group fit is the best thing that could happen. This way we’ve always got more options.”
Barcelona coped fine without Messi on Sunday when a hat-trick from Alexis Sanchez helped the Blaugrana to an impressive 4-0 win over Elche. Pedro was also on target in that encounter, as he had been, three times, in Barcelona’s last match of 2013, a 5-2 victory at Getafe. With Barcelona coming closer to the passing and movement of their pomp, especially against Elche, Getafe face a massive task to progress any further in the Copa del Rey.
Getafe’s best hope may lie in Barcelona taking their eye off the ball, with Atletico Madrid firmly on the horizon. Martino has confirmed that neither Xavi nor Marc Bartra will be have their injuries risked on Wednesday, while Dani Alves will again miss out. Neymar may come back into the starting lineup, however, after coming off the bench against Elche and Martino he insists that the club is fully focused on Getafe.
“There’ll be enough time to think about the League and Atletico,” he explained. “This weekend’s match is being talked about more outside the dressing room than in it. We’re playing to get into the quarter-finals and a mistake could see us knocked out, which nobody wants.”
Getafe come into the contest on the back of losing their first match of the year, 3-0 at Sevilla. The defeat was their third straight in La Liga and has seen Luis Garcia Plaza’s side drop down to ninth in the table.
Where to watch: The first leg of the Copa del Rey last-16 tie will kick off from the Camp Nou at 4 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport en Espanol, with a live stream available on beIN Sport Play.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.