The Blaugrana talisman has had an injury-plagued start to the year, and his coach says he’ll need time to be back to his brilliant best
Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde says it’s too early to expect a lot of Lionel Messi as he eases his way back to full fitness.
The Argentina superstar has had niggling injuries to contend with this season, but scored in a 4-0 win over Sevilla before the international break.
Barcelona, who are second in La Liga behind Real Madrid, take on Eibar on Saturday, but Valverde cautioned that Messi has been not at his best yet.
“He has been in the process of being 100 per cent fit,” Valverde told a press conference.
“The other day he played 90 minutes and scored, and that always reassures the strikers.
“He has to go slowly to reach top form. He only has one full game under his belt, we hope he can give us much more in the coming matches.”
Messi, who has tallied 15 goals in nine matches against Eibar, has been not the only Blaugrana soccer professional rounding into fitness.
Defenders Samuel Umtiti and Junior Firpo are back in the mix for Valverde’s side, but Gerard Pique and Ousmane Dembele will miss out through suspension.
Barca had a difficult start to the season, headlined by a loss to Granada, but have won their last three matches.
Their coach has been happy to have bounced back from their bad start, but admitted it had left them some way short of where they would like to be.
“We have had a difficult time but what I like has been that we have been able to react,” he added.
“It has been what we have been doing in recent years, overcoming slumps. What we would like has been to go top, but we can’t do that because we have slipped up.”
Eibar, too, have had a resurgence of late. They had a woeful start to the year, but have won two of their last three matches to rise to 14th in the table.
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Despite their good form and Messi’s injury-hit start to the year, coach Jose Luis Mendilibar has been aware of the Argentine’s dominance over his club, but cautioned that the Catalans have other ways to hurt teams.
“Against us Messi always scores goals,” he told a press conference.
“[But] we can’t be obsessed with him and the key has been to stop the whole team. We have a plan to stop Barcelona, and Messi has been among them.”