BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona must decide whether to field Lionel Messi as they resume their bid for the Liga title away to Sevilla on Saturday amid doubts about their talisman’s fitness at the start of a gruelling period of seven games in 22 days.
Messi missed Argentina’s friendlies against Italy and Spain due to a muscle problem sustained after Barca’s last Liga outing against Athletic Bilbao and only completed half of a training session on Thursday.
He is the top scorer in La Liga with 25 goals and has featured in all but one of Barca’s league games this campaign, only sitting out the match against Malaga following the birth of his third son.
The trip to Sevilla is likely to be Barca’s hardest away game left this season although their 11-point lead over nearest challengers Atletico Madrid gives coach Ernesto Valverde wiggle room in their bid to reclaim the title.
Barca have the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie against AS Roma on Wednesday and five more games, culminating in the Cup final against Sevilla on April 21 before earning a seven day rest before their next league game.
Barca have failed to win on two of their last three visits to Sevilla’s famously atmospheric Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, however, and will be keen to extend their 36-game unbeaten record in the league.
They are targeting the Liga record of 38 games unbeaten, held by Real Sociedad from the 1979/80 season.
Valverde said on Wednesday he was not overly concerned about Messi’s fitness and laughed off suggestions his forward would be affected by Argentina’s humiliating 6-1 defeat to Spain on Tuesday.
Messi left his seat at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium immediately after the sixth goal went in.
“Messi has a bit of discomfort but we think it’s nothing important. We’re relaxed,” Valverde said.
“Argentina only lost a friendly. The World Cup hasn’t started yet and not all our players will be able to win it.”
Barca are still missing midfield anchor Sergio Busquets with a toe problem, while left back Lucas Digne is out for three weeks with a muscle injury sustained on international duty with France.
Sevilla host runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie on Tuesday and will be without suspended midfielder Pablo Sarabia against Barca as well as veteran Jesus Navas, who is injured.
On Sunday second-placed Atletico host struggling Deportivo La Coruna, who are still without a win under coach Clarence Seedorf, while champions Real, four points behind their city rivals in third, visit 18th-placed Las Palmas.
Editing by Toby Davis