The forward missed international friendlies against Italy and Spain over the past week, but should return to action for the Catalan club on Saturday
Lionel Messi had seen enough. After Spain’s sixth goal at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday night, the Barcelona forward stood up from his seat and walked inside. His team were being thrashed, and this time he could do nothing to prevent it.
The 30-year-old had expected to be on the pitch and was even confirmed fit the previous day in the pre-match press conference by Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli, but after feeling discomfort in his hamstring and adductor the night before the game, he and the coaching staff decided it was not worth the risk.
It was that same problem that kept the five-time Ballon d’Or winner out of the 2-0 win over Italy in Manchester four days earlier. But instead of returning to his club, Messi was keen to stay with the group in their preparations for the World Cup — and he was eager to start against Spain in Madrid.
On the day of the game, however, it was confirmed that he would miss out. And that was a big blow for Sampaoli, who had spoken at length on Monday about trying out his team with its star player at the core.
That will have to wait and with only two friendlies left for Argentina ahead of the World Cup in June (against Ukraine and Israel), it is a concern. Messi, meanwhile, cut a forlorn figure as he was snapped staring blankly into space during the heavy defeat.
“He had a really good week of training with us,” Sampaoli said of Messi after the loss. “But he still had some discomfort in his leg. After that last session, he felt fatigue. He couldn’t play, but he accompanied the team. He accompanied them in the dressing room. He is really involved ahead of the World Cup.”
Had the match been an important qualifier or a World Cup clash, Messi would have played. But given that it was a friendly, there was no need to take a risk, and although there was frustration at not being able to field their best player, there is no question that it was the correct call.
“If he doesn’t feel at 100 per cent, there is no point risking him,” AFA president Claudio Tapia told TyC Sports afterwards. “Why should we risk? It seems to me to be unnecessary. If he is not right, it is not convenient for him to play.”
Just five days later, however, Messi looks likely to feature for Barcelona in La Liga against Sevilla — although the Argentine will probably start on the bench at the Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday.
“After the game against Athletic Club (prior to the international break), he had some pain,” Barca boss Ernesto Valverde said on Friday. “I would like him to be without any discomfort at all. But the players are used to dealing with these type of problems. We have to take it into account. A muscle tear would be much worse.”
Indeed it would. But Valverde is not one to take risks with his players and with an 11-point lead in La Liga, he can rest his star man when necessary to keep him fresh for the bigger games, especially in the Champions League (in which Barca face Roma on Wednesday).
La Liga ends on May 20th, with the Champions League final to take place in Kiev six days later. And if Barca are in it, that will mean scarce rest time for Messi ahead of the World Cup, which starts on June 14th.