Maybe Barcelona will welcome Lionel Messi back for El Clasico after all. Just last week the Catalans feared the Argentine would be unfit to return from a left knee ligament injury that’s kept him sidelined since Sept. 26, but according to reports Messi participated in training sessions on Monday and may be nearing a return to the pitch.
Initially the 28-year-old was expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with a sprained internal collateral ligament, but his comeback ran parallel to the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu to face Real Madrid for supremacy atop La Liga on Nov. 21.
However, Messi fell behind his rehabilitation schedule by a week and fears arose over whether he could help the Catalans against Cristiano Ronaldo and their most hated rivals. Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said Monday to Marca that Messi is back on track.
"I hope he can play as his recovery is within the timeframe we had set ourselves," Bartomeu said. "I hope all of our players get through their trips with their national teams without injury and with great strength. We will then give our all to beat our rivals."
As it stands, other than Oct. 3’s loss to Sevilla and Oct. 28’s draw with Villanovense in Spanish Cup play, the Catalans have largely weathered the storm surrounding Messi’s absence.
But there’s no question Luis Enrique’s side will need all the firepower at their disposal to dispatch Los Blancos and build their now three-point first-place lead on the domestic table.
Thanks to Neymar and Luis Suarez relentlessly guiding the attack, Barcelona’s won seven of their last nine matches across all competitions without Messi in the lineup. All of the Catalans' 17 league goals in Messi’s absence have come from the foot of either South American star.
Neymar, in particular, has wowed supporters and frustrated opponents with his scoring and playmaking, netting five of his 16 goals on the year in the last three matches, including back-to-back braces against Villarreal and BATE Borisov. The 23-year-old Brazilian has also assisted six other goals since Messi went down.
And since the start of La Liga play in August, Suarez has found the back of the net nine times and has been held scoreless in only four of 10 matches. The Uruguay international is currently riding a hot-streak with six goals in Barcelona’s last three contests.
Last year, Barcelona and Real Madrid split the two Clasicos, but the results did little to stop the Catalans from securing the treble. Barcelona’s also claimed three of the last four meetings on the La Liga stage.
After Sunday’s resounding 3-0 victory over Villarreal, Enrique wouldn’t tip his hand regarding Messi’s health, but also insisted how much the squad needs him.
"[Messi] is neither ruled out nor certain to play,” he said. "He is still in the recovery process. It is going well. There are two weeks left. We will get Messi back, but either before or after that game.
"The only thing we are concerned about, since Leo was injured, was for him to recover well. We are infinitely stronger with Messi."
Argentina also need Messi. With Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez sidelined, head coach Gerardo Martino will be at a disadvantage when Argentina host Brazil on Thursday, and then travel to face Colombia on Nov. 17, in World Cup Qualifying.