Rested Messi returns for Catalan derby clash against Girona






Ernesto Valverde has prevented talisman Lionel Messi from playing too much football to keep the forward fresh for tricky matches during the final third of the season and Girona may pay the price on Sunday.



 
Barcelona have held back talisman Lionel Messi this season to preserve his fitness for the business end of the season and Girona could fall victim in Sunday's Catalan derby.
In a match which was touted to take place in Miami but eventually fell through after La Liga could not get other governing bodies to agree to the switch, Messi arrives at Montilivi fresh.
Ernesto Valverde has been determined to help the Argentine playmaker, 31, reach the key part of the campaign with a spring in his stride, and has limited Messi’s minutes over the past fortnight.
The forward was rested for the first leg of the Copa del Rey last 16 clash with Levante and again for Thursday’s 2-0 defeat by Sevilla in the quarter-final.
Messi was also required to appear from the bench last weekend against Leganes in La Liga, helping Barcelona to a 3-1 win with the scores tied at one apiece when he entered the fray.
However Messi is set to start on Sunday as league leaders Barcelona travel to Girona, 12th, who earned a creditable 2-2 draw at Camp Nou earlier this season.
Messi, the division's top scorer with 18 goals, scored in that clash along with Gerard Pique, while Cristhian Stuani netted two for the visitors.
Stuani was one of several forwards Barcelona looked at in the winter window as back-up for Messi and Luis Suarez, but they eventually settled on Kevin-Prince Boateng.
The Ghanian journeyman featured against Sevilla but is expected to drop to the bench on Sunday as Suarez and Messi retake the reins.
"I don't regret doing it (resting Messi), it’s what I had to do," said Valverde after the defeat by Sevilla.
Third-place Real Madrid are also in action in Catalonia as they travel to Espanyol, 13th.
After beating Sevilla last weekend Los Blancos will look to build on that with another victory.
Real, 10 points behind leaders Barcelona and five from second place Atletico Madrid, will look to make up ground on their city rivals before the Madrid derby on February 9.
In good news for the European champions they are recovering some of their injured players, with Toni Kroos, Mariano Diaz and Marcos Llorente back in training, although Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio remain sidelined.
Isco and Marcelo remain on the fringes of Santiago Solari’s plans, having been dropped for Dani Ceballos and Sergio Reguilon respectively.
"There can be no question about [Marcelo’s] love and commitment towards this club, his upbeat attitude in training and his impeccable conduct," said Solari.
"I have to name the starting line-up and it's tough, but I name my side according to how I see each game."
Atletico Madrid host Getafe in a Madrid derby in the midst of their own struggles with injuries.
Midfielder Koke was taken off with a thigh injury against Huesca last weekend and was the team's 33rd injury problem from 31 matches this season and seven players are still out, along with suspended forward Angel Correa.
The weekend’s other fixtures are Sevilla v Levante, Leganes v Eibar, Valencia v Villarreal, Valladolid v Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad v Huesca, Athletic Bilbao v Real Betis and Alaves v Rayo Vallecano.

Notepad


Thursday, January 24th 2019
By Rik Sharma,
           


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