Barcelona coach, Gerardo Martino, has insisted he will not rush his Argentine superstar, Lionel Messi, back into action for the top-of-the-table clash with Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Messi has been out with a hamstring injury since November 10, but was continuously in Spanish media for an argument over his contract with the Barca board.
The FIFA Ballon d’Or contender has returned to practice last week after he recovered in his home country from his injury. He could feature either against Getafe in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday or in Barcelona’s difficult away match at second-placed Atletico.
However, his coach confirmed he will not rush Messi back before he is physically and mentally ready to return.
“Whether he plays in one of the games this week depends on how he feels,” said Martino.
“He has to be ready not just physically but also mentally. It always takes players a while to mentally recover from an injury and I think that is the most important thing right now because physically he looks good.
“What we will never do is play him when he is not ready. We would not risk his fitness, nor the team. He has made a great effort to get into the shape he is in now and we just need to have a little more patience.
“We know the importance of the game and how well Atletico are playing. They are a team that is ready to win big things, but that doesn’t change our perspective in only selecting the players that are in the right condition to play the game.”
Messi was in the stands when Barca won 4-0 against Elche yesterday and Martino also rested Neymar from the start. The coach was rewarded for his faith in Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez as they combined for all four of Blaugrana’s goals, with Sanchez claiming his first hat-trick for the club.
With Messi and Victor Valdez close to their return, Martino is happy with the current form and shape of his team. However, he feels Barcelona has room for improvement and can finish the second half of the season stronger than last year.
“We are in good form but there is still plenty of room for improvement. We are in a part of the year where the games are decisive. One bad game can mean you are out of the Champions League or the Copa del Rey.
“I believe that we will get to the end of the season in better shape than last year. Last season the team suffered a lot of unfortunate injuries towards the end of the season.
“We obviously cannot assure that won’t happen, but I have the feeling and the expectation that our best form is still to come.”
Will the Argentine superstar fully recover from his recent injury series? Have your say in the comment section below.