Barcelona and Real Madrid experienced contrasting fortunes without their star men at the weekend. While Real Madrid overcame the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo by thumping Real Valladolid 4-0 on the back of a hat-trick from Gareth Bale, Barcelona slumped to their second successive loss as they went down 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao.
There is more good news for Madrid, who now trail Barcelona by just three points in La Liga, with Ronaldo declaring himself fit to return to the side. Ronaldo strained a hamstring in Madrid’s victory over Almeria on Nov. 23 and missed the Champions League match with Galatasaray as well as the weekend clash. But he has now revealed that he will be back in action in the first leg of Madrid’s Copa del Rey tie with third-tier side Olimpic de Xativa on Saturday.
"I'm injury-free,” he said after collecting Marca’s award for the best player in La Liga last season, according to the Spanish sports daily. “I'm fine now and I have been for a couple of days. I missed the last match because I didn't want to rush it, but I'll be back next game.”
Barcelona, however, will still be without Messi for some time yet. The four-time Ballon d’Or winner tore a hamstring injury against Real Betis on Nov. 10, with an initial prognosis that he would be absent for between six and eight weeks.
Having undergone the first stage of his recovery in Barcelona, Messi left for Buenos Aires on Friday alongside the Catalan club’s doctor Ricard Pruna and physiotherapist Elvio Paulorroso. Before his departure, Barcelona said that the 26-year-old’s recovery was on track.
“The latest tests on the player have shown that the recovery program is going to plan,” a club statement read.
The trophy for last season’s Pichichi (La Liga’s top scorer) was also handed out on Sunday and, collecting the award on Messi’s behalf, Barcelona secretary and spokesman Toni Freixa also told the audience that all is well with the player’s recovery.
“Messi is recovering satisfactorily and will soon be fit again,” he said, according to Barcelona’s official website. “The football world is waiting for Messi start playing again so we can enjoy his football.”
Sunday’s clash at the San Mames was always likely to be Barcelona’s toughest match in Messi’s absence, and his loss was exacerbated by injuries ruling out a host of other first-team regulars. Coach Gerardo Martino will now hope that Messi and the rest of his squad is fit for what should be their next serious test -- against second-place Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Jan. 12.