Lionel Messi Has Had Injury Problems Since Christmas, Says Ernesto Valverde

Gill Clark@@gillclarkyFeatured Columnist IIMarch 29, 2019

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 06: Ernesto Valverde, Manager of FC Barcelona talks with Lionel Messi 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 manager Ernesto Valverde says Lionel Messi has been coping with injury problems since before Christmas but should be fit to face Espanyol in La Liga on Saturday. 

Messi returned to international duty with Argentina in their 3-1 defeat to Venezuela but subsequently missed their friendly against Morocco on Tuesday with a groin problem.

Valverde told a pre-match press conference that Messi has been having issues for some time and is being carefully managed by Barcelona:

Goal @goal

Messi has been nursing injuries since before Christmas 👕 17 ⚽ 18 Imagine his 2019 stats if he was fit! 😲 https://t.co/dJ5Q1RWBXF

The injuries have not affected Messi's form this season. The Barcelona captain has scored 29 goals in 26 La Liga appearances and eight goals in six UEFA Champions League matches.

He also appears to be in fine form in training ahead of Saturday's match:

FC Barcelona @FCBarcelona

👑 Just #Messi things... 🔥 https://t.co/l1EMXVfvSV

Messi also spoke about his injury problems and why he missed the game against Morocco in an interview with Argentine radio station Radio 94.7 Club Octubre (h/t Roy Nemer at Mundo Albiceleste).

"It became customary for people to say things about me, inventing," he said. "The truth is that I've had pain in my pubic area from before the Christmas break and I would train a little, not play all of the matches."

Barcelona will need to be careful with Messi as the season reaches its climax and with the club still in contention to win three trophies.

Valverde has little need to risk his star man in La Liga, given the team have a 10-point lead at the top of the table with just 10 games left to play.

The club's priority this season is to win the Champions League, and Barca will want Messi to be at his peak for their quarter-final against Manchester United.

Messi tends to enjoy playing the Red Devils. He scored in both of Barcelona's final wins over Manchester United in 2009 and 2011:

UEFA Champions League @ChampionsLeague

⏪ Barcelona v Manchester United 📍 Wembley Stadium, 28 May 2011 🤔 Who'll come out on top this time? #UCL https://t.co/Fd8AP7pPyG

Barcelona play Espanyol, Villarreal and Atletico Madrid in La Liga before they head to England for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on April 10.

The club's healthy lead in the league means Valverde does have the luxury of rotating his squad, and it would be little surprise to see Messi spend some time on the bench before the trip to Old Trafford.