Lionel Messi is fit for Saturday’s Clásico against Real Madrid, but Barcelona coach Luis Enrique says he does not yet know whether the Argentine will start at the Bernabeu. Messi has been out of action since injuring his knee in the early stages of Barcelona’s win over Las Palmas at the end of September, and has faced a race against time to regain fitness ahead of the season’s first Clásico. His return to training with the squad this week has come as a major boost, however Enrique explained that Messi's status remains unclear for Saturday.
“With regards to Leo, he’s back with the squad and the feelings are positive,” he said in his pre-match press conference on Friday, according to Spanish daily Sport. “He’s fit and he’s back training with the squad. There is still today’s session and things we have to talk about, he won’t be 100 percent, that’s impossible, he’s just coming back from injury, but it is great for us to know that he is recovered.
“I don’t have things planned [regarding the starting line-up]. I will speak with Leo today and again tomorrow. An hour before the game, things will be decided. I watch all my players training, especially those coming back from injuries. You can see things, but it is the player who can tell you how he is feeling, how confident he is. I can tell you Leo is excited about his comeback. The great news is he is fit again.”
Barcelona’s other fitness concern as they look to defend a three-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga has been midfielder Ivan Rakitic. The Croatian suffered a calf injury earlier this month, missing the victory over Villarreal before the international break. Like Messi, his situation will continue to be closely monitored ahead of kickoff in the Spanish capital.
“Ivan is in the same situation as Leo,” Enrique explained. “He's trained with us over the past few days and he's doing well. We'll talk after the training session.”
While the attention has focused on Messi’s fitness race, Real Madrid have been sweating on the availability of a number of players. The most serious doubt has been over Karim Benzema. The forward has been missing for more than a month with injury, during which time he has also been questioned by French authorities over an alleged attempt to blackmail France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
“He’s in the squad,” manager Rafael Benitez responded when asked whether Benzema was in the right physical or mental condition to play, reports Spanish outlet AS. “He trained well. We’ll decide if he plays or not.”
Also providing a concern has been the availability of goalkeeper, and arguably Real Madrid’s player of the season so far, Keylor Navas. The Costa Rican didn’t travel away with his country as he continues to shake off a muscle strain. Benitez, however, described himself as “optimistic” that Navas would be able to take the field.
There is more concrete news over captain Sergio Ramos. The center-back suffered a relapse of a persistent shoulder injury when scoring in Real Madrid’s defeat to Sevilla two weeks ago, but Benitez has confirmed that he will start the world’s most-watched club game.
“He’s fine going into the match,” Benitez said. “He’s making an effort we appreciate. He’s the captain, he needs to be there and he will be there.”