BARCELONA: 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.