Messi returns to Barcelona ranks for heated clash with AC Milan
Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino claims Lionel Messi will return to the field for first-team action in the Champions League group stage match against AC Milan on Tuesday night. Martino also confessed he had his fingers crossed for the absence of Mario Balotelli.
Messi marked his return to the field by playing 20 minutes in Barcelona’s goalless draw against Osasuna on Saturday. The Argentinean hit-man had been sidelined for the past three weeks because of a thigh injury.
On the other hand AC Milan’s in-form striker Mario Balotelli missed a 1-0 win over Udinese. Balotelli was benched during the Saturday night victory after the medical team confirmed that the young Italy international had picked up a calf injury.
Martino claims he has refrained from rushing Messi towards a quick return since last weekend, but he finally believed that Messi was ready to play with full fitness.
“We did not want to risk him from the start,” Martino said. “He recovered much more quickly than we thought -- it was expected he would only be back in training this week -- so we thought it most prudent to give him just some minutes in Pamplona so he would feel better ahead of the games coming up now. He has the medical all-clear, so the risks are the same as with any other player.”
Martino claims he wouldn’t want Balotelli to play, but for the sake of the fans he hoped he remained fit to play the game.
“I could give you two answers -- one from our point of view and one from the perspective of the fans,” Martino said. “When stars do not play it is bad for the fans, but good for the opposition players.”
Martino will have a full squad to choose his team for the match against AC Milan. The only injured player is left-back Jordi Alba. Martino hopes the strength of his squad remains the same till Barcelona host Real Madrid at Camp Nou on Saturday for the first El Clasico of the season.
Martino further stated that squad rotation will be crucial to ensure that his side remains fit and in good shape for both games.
“We understand our game as very difficult,” Martino said. “We are coming from a good performance without a win, obviously our worst result of the season, but one which put us top of the table. We want to back that up with a good result tomorrow.
“This is a week of important games, but it will not determine anything. It is still very soon to think about the end of the rotations. The idea is for the players to be right for the end of the season. I have thought about rotations since the start of the season -- it is too early yet to make any final analysis.”