Barcelona relying on Messi fitness in bid for a comeback

Barcelona relying on Messi fitness in bid for a comeback

MADRID - Agence France-Presse
Barcelona relying on Messi fitness in bid for a comeback

Barcelona’a Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (L) started in his team’s 4-0 defeat against Bayern Munich in the first leg game last week, but he was largely ineffectual against a solid defending German side. AFP Photo

Barcelona admits any chance it has of overturning a 4-0 first-leg defeat to Bayern Munich in its Champions League semifinal return tonight depends very much on the fitness of Lionel Messi.

The World Player of the Year looked out of sorts in Munich last week as an energetic display from the hosts tore Barça to pieces, but Messi did come off the bench to score a wonderful individual goal and set-up a second for Alexis Sanchez in Barca’s 2-2 draw with Athletic Bilbao on April 27.

And Barcelona assistant manager Jordi Roura believes Messi has started to find his feet again after being troubled by a hamstring injury for the past month.

“Messi is the best player in the world and obviously when you don’t have him you notice it. He makes the difference,” he told a press conference after the Athletic game. “He will continue with his recuperation after the injury. He was very good today and we hope that little by little he arrives at his best level. He will continue improving and the better Leo is the more chances we will have against Bayern.”

Despite Messi not being at 100%, Barça’s principal problem in the first-leg was its defending and manager Tito Vilanova has even more problems at the back with Jordi Alba suspended for tonight’s clash.

Adriano returns from suspension and is expected to replace Alba, however the biggest doubt remains who will partner Gerard Pique in central defense.

Defense problems

Javier Mascherano returned to light training well ahead of the schedule planned for him after suffering a lateral knee ligament injury against Paris Saint-Germain on April 2 and he could be thrown straight back into the side, although Vilanova also has Eric Abidal or Alex Song.

Bayern by contrast will be able to welcome back striker Mario Mandzukic after he missed the first-leg through suspension.

And despite its comfortable lead, manager Jupp Heynckes has said he won’t rest any of his six first-team regulars that could miss the final should they be booked at the Camp Nou.

Captain Philip Lahm, Dante, Javi Martinez, Luis Gustavo, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gomez are all just one booking away from missing the May 25 final at Wembley should Bayern seal its passage.

“I won’t be making any concessions,” Heynckes told the club’s website.

“I’ll select my best available team. The players will have to show great discipline, which means: no gestures, no unnecessary fouls, and they mustn’t let themselves be provoked. That’s the decisive factor.”

And having once experienced losing a tie after winning the first-leg 5-1 when manager of Borussia Mönchengladbach against Real Madrid in 1985, Heynckes is determined not to make the same mistake again.

“We need the same attitude, willingness to run and good tactics,” he said. “Barcelona are still the best team in the world. We know they’re capable of stunning results at home, and they’ve overturned deficits in the past. Their pride has been wounded and they’ll give it everything they’ve got. We’ll need a top performance.”