Barcelona have received a boost with confirmation that the leg problem which forced Lionel Messi to leave Sunday’s match with Athletic Bilbao early is nothing serious.
Messi was replaced at half-time of Barca’s 6-0 win as a precaution after suffering what looked to be a hamstring injury and the newly-crowned FIFA Ballon d’Or winner underwent tests on Monday morning.
However, the results of those tests have revealed no major problem and the Argentina international has not yet been ruled out of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg with Athletic.
A Barcelona statement read: “Medical tests on striker Lionel Messi this Monday morning have revealed great news. It turns out that the Argentinian has not got a hamstring injury and has just taken a bit of a knock.
“His availability for the next two games will depend on the player’s recovery.”
Messi scored an early penalty against the Basques. Neymar and Ivan Rakitic also scored in the drubbing while Luis Suarez hit a hat-trick in the second half, and Luis Enrique admitted the game had been shaped by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz’s decision to send Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz off in the third minute for tripping Suarez in the area.
He said: “The incident changed the game completely and the tactical plans we had went out the window. It was a comfortable game for us but we still needed to work hard and stay in our positions.
“It was much easier for us obviously but we still had to do our job, we were only 2-0 up at half-time. We had to finish them off after the break and we did that.”
And although he admitted Mateu Lahoz had made the right decision, the coach said he does not agree that a player should be automatically sent off for denying a clear goalscoring chance in the area.
“It’s an excessive punishment but those are the rules and the referees have to work within them,” he said. “If the rule were to change, all coaches would be delighted.”
Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde added: “It’s excessively harsh, even though it’s the rule. Being reduced to 10 men after three minutes is very difficult. It’s a penalty, but it’s excessive.
“Before the penalty we had a great chance to score which we didn’t take and then we were up against it. Our only option, with a man down and 90 minutes left, was to try and keep the score tight and see if we could get to the end of the game still with a chance.”
And the coach does not believe the result will affect his side’s preparation for the Copa del Rey tie against Barca.
“We have to pick ourselves up, this is a huge result, but we are also conscious of the circumstances that dictated this game, we don’t normally concede as many goals as that,” he said.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get through the tie. We are inconsistent against Barca and our plan is to pick ourselves up and battle against them in the Copa del Rey. Our aim is to knock them out.”
Luis Enrique does not expect an easy ride at San Mames either, with the 4-0 thrashing his side received there in the Spanish Super Cup still fresh in his mind.
“It will be a different competition and will not have anything to do with what we saw here,” he said.
“They will try and make home advantage count but we will go out to win the game, without thinking about the second leg.
“I never had an easy game at San Mames and if they made things hard for us tonight with 10 men, imagine what it’ll be like with 11.”
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