Lionel Messi and Neymar, along with the rest of Barcelona’s internationals, have returned unscathed from 10 days away with their countries ahead of the Blaugrana’s clash with Sevilla on Saturday. Both Messi and Neymar excelled while away, with the former scoring twice as Argentina clinched their place in next year’s World Cup with victory over Paraguay, while the latter scored a goal in each of Brazil’s friendlies -- against Australia and Portugal.
Barcelona may well be grateful for the game time given to Neymar. The summer signing has been searching for peak fitness since he lost weight following an operation to remove his tonsils in the summer.
It is a very different situation for Messi, whom Barcelona are keen to wrap in cotton wool as much as possible. Argentina’s early qualification for Brazil had raised hopes at the Camp Nou that the forward would be rested for their two final qualifying games. That looks unlikely to happen, however, with Argentine Football Association President Julio Grondona suggesting it wouldn’t be fair for on the other countries in competition to qualify.
It could well be that Barcelona take their own precautions against over-burdening Messi, with the club facing a hectic list of fixtures featuring seven matches in 22 days. Gerardo Martino will be delighted then that Daniel Alves and Sergio Busquets, who both missed out playing for their countries with injuries, have returned to full training.
Even more encouraging news for Martino is that Carles Puyol appears to be closing in on a return to action. The club captain has been absent for six months since undergoing surgery to remove a cyst on his knee. However, on Thursday he suggested that he could be about to get the medical all-clear to return to full training with his teammates.
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“Nearly there!!! Very happy, tomorrow could be a good day, he Tweeted.
Puyol’s return to action cannot come soon enough. Barcelona again failed to sign a central defender during the summer, with Martino suggesting that one was not needed because Puyol would be the “new signing.”
Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano have been ever-presents at the center of Barcelona’s back four as the champions have begun their Liga title defense with three-straight wins. Although having won 7-0 on the opening weekend, Barcelona were less convincing in narrow wins over Malaga and Valencia.
It has been a different story for Sevilla, though. After a summer in which several key players were sold, Unai Emery’s side have just two points to show from their first three league encounters. A club that finished in a disappointing ninth place last season could be in store for a long campaign. Their two leading lights, Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas have headed to Manchester City, while their former first-choice midfield duo Gary Medel and Geoffrey Kondogbia have also moved on.
One of the players that has arrived to fill the gap, Marko Marin, returned to training on Wednesday, but Diego Perotti suffered an injury that puts his place against Barcelona in jeopardy.