Lionel Messi hasn’t played competitive football for almost two months now, and is far from certain to play any part in next weekend’s El Clasico, but Messi, being Messi, is rightly the centre of speculation and anxiety alike. His fixations of getting himself fit in time for the biggest game in club football speak volumes of his desire, but will he be ready? Would letting him play be too much of a risk too early into his recovery process?
Messi is currently in Spain, having not travelled to Argentina with his national team for two crucial World Cup qualifiers against Brazil and Colombia. That the Argentina national team have suffered in the absence of Messi is well documented. While Messi has been nursing his knee injury, Tata Martino’s Albicelestes have contrived to lose to Ecuador at River Plate’s el Monumental and play a goalless stalemate in Paraguay to languish in the table’s lower reaches. They are also the only team to have not scored a single goal in South American qualifying thus far.
While Messi has been a big miss for his country, Barca can barely complain. Manager Luis Enrique has given his players not involved in international exertions three days off over the weekend, but Messi isn’t one of them. The 28-year-old arrived at the Ciutat Esportiva early on Thursday to fast track his recovery process.
There couldn’t be news any better than that of Messi being fit for the Clasico. Barca are on a decent run of form, having won six of their last seven games and only once have they lost since Messi went off injured in that fateful game against Las Palmas. In the Argentine’s absence, the Blaugrana have scored 23 goals and conceded only seven.
With or without La Pulga, the Blaugranas clearly look to be on their game ahead of the Clasico. With four successive clean sheets somewhat solving their defensive crisis and the brilliance of Neymar and Luis Suarez making sure Messi hasn’t been heavily missed, things seem to have fallen in exactly the right places for Luis Enrique’s side.
Whether or not Messi is a gamble worth taking depends on how the events during the game unfold, and news of the 28-year-old actively taking part in recovery sessions and light training with his team-mates will be music to Barca’s ears. His weekend recovery program includes slaloms, intensity and rhythm changes, shooting, jumping, changing direction, discontinuous runnings and mechanisms to reproduce the mechanism of his injury.
Messi’s obsession of making his return against Real Madrid is understandable. After all, Real Madrid are a team he likes to play against the most. With 21 goals and 13 assists over the years against Barca’s fiercest rivals, Messi has been directly involved in creating or scoring a goal after every 30 minutes in the Clasico. No wonder why he is so keen on fast-tracking his recovery process. And should it happen that he plays, it will only make the Clasico a grander occasion.