Barcelona Hopeful over Lionel Messi Fitness After Playing Injured in El Clasico

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2019

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 06: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona in action during the Copa del Rey Semi Final first leg match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at Nou Camp on February 06, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi is a doubt for Sunday's trip to Athletic Bilbao after coming off the bench not fully fit to face Real Madrid in El Clasico on Wednesday, says Ernesto Valverde.

Messi was unable to affect the score, as Barca drew 1-1 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final. The substitute was carrying an injury from Saturday's 2-2 draw against Valencia, and Valverde told reporters about the knock his talisman was carrying at the Camp Nou.

"The decisions you make are based on what you think is better for the team and the player," the Barcelona manager said. "He had discomfort. Today he was better but we thought it was best he enter in the second half. He could be decisive because we know the danger he creates every time he gets the ball."

On Messi's chances of playing against Athletic, Valverde said: "I don't know. If he's OK, he'll play. I hope it's like that."

Barca are six points ahead of Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga, while Los Leones sit 12th and lost 2-1 in their trip to Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Statman Dave highlighted how the 63rd-minute substitute still managed to affect his side's attack in a half-hour cameo:

Statman Dave @StatmanDave

Despite the fact that he came on on the 63rd minute, Messi completed more take-ons (5) than any Real Madrid player. 🐐🐐🐐 https://t.co/WYtHkq9y2B

Lucas Vazquez's opening goal was enough for Real to clinch a draw in their first-leg visit to Catalonia. Malcom—who was one of Barca's more impressive performers on Wednesday and could have done enough to keep his place against Athletic—supplied the equaliser after 57 minutes.

The return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu isn't until February 27, by which point Messi can hope to have recovered. OptaJose recently pointed out how critical the Argentinian is to their chances:

OptaJose @OptaJose

25% - @FCBarcelona have lost 25% of their games without Lionel Messi this season in all competitions (2/8) compared to 7.4% with him (2/27). Essential. https://t.co/cI2VetwBB6

Barcelona now have a clearer vision of what they must do in their visit to Madrid, with the Catalans hoping to become the first team to win five successive Copas del Rey.

Previewing that trip, Valverde added: "We are forced to score in the Bernabeu. That is evident. But there is still a lot left [before] that game. We have to be calm, and we will have time to focus."

Messi will have to overcome a personal drought against Los Blancos if he's to have the desired impact, per ESPN UK:


Lionel Messi will want to put this right in the second leg 👀 https://t.co/XrVfrjsdaK

The Blaugrana are still in contention for both the Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League, along with La Liga, and Valverde may trust his side to get the job done in Bilbao without Messi.

It's at this stage of the season when those targeting silverware usually see their squad strength put to the test, and five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi is in a fight for fitness as Barcelona prepare for their return to La Liga action.