Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde is not confident Lionel Messi will return from injury in time for the club's La Liga opener on Friday against Athletic Bilbao, telling reporters it will be "difficult."
Per AS, he spoke to reporters after Saturday's 4-0 win over Napoli, a match Messi missed with a calf injury: "He's in the recovery process and I don't know if he will be ready for the start of La Liga. It's looking difficult."
The 32-year-old missed the two fixtures the Catalans played against the Partenopei in the United States, both of them wins.
While the scoreline of the second contest looks impressive, the Catalans scored all of their goals after Napoli made several half-time substitutions, and the first two goals came with blown offside calls from the linesman. Against the Italians' strongest XI in the first half, they failed to muster many clear chances.
Luis Suarez scored twice, while Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann also got on the board in the win:
The defending La Liga champions face two tricky opponents to start the 2019-20 campaign. Friday's trip to the San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao will be followed by a clash with Real Betis. Both teams surely have ambitions to qualify for the UEFA Europa League this season.
Preparations for the new season have been tricky, with plenty of traveling. Valverde told AS (h/t Football Espana) he was not pleased with the trip to the United States this late in pre-season:
Sportswriter Ben Hayward noted he hasn't experimented with some likely pairings:
One area where he should have little worries is in attack, however, even if Messi doesn't return from injury in time for the Athletic match. Suarez, Griezmann and especially Dembele were standouts on Saturday and should form an excellent trident in the Basque Country.
The Blaugrana would much rather have Messi in their squad for the trip to the San Mames, but during a long season, it's best not to take too many risks this early in the campaign.