Barcelona forward Lionel Messi will not be at full fitness for Saturday’s La Liga ‘Clasico’ at Real Madrid if he makes his return from injury but “the feelings are positive”, coach Luis Enrique said on Friday.
Lionel Messi has not played since injuring his knee at the end of September, during which time champions Barca have pulled three points clear of second-placed Real at the top, largely thanks to the form of the Argentina captain’s South American compatriots Neymar and Luis Suarez.
Luis Enrique said a decision would be made on Saturday whether Lionel Messi will start the clash at the Bernabeu, when a win for Barca, chasing a sixth La Liga title in eight years, would put them six points clear of Real after 12 matches.
“Since he started training again (on Monday) the feelings are positive,” Luis Enrique told a news conference.
“He has recovered and he is playing at the same level as the rest of the squad,” added the former Barca and Spain midfielder.
“Obviously he won’t be at 100 percent in physical terms due to the time he has been out but he is so important that to have him recovered at least gives us some security.”
There was more good news for Luis Enrique on the injury front this week when Barca’s Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic returned to training after a calf injury.
If Lionel Messi and Rakitic start, Messi will be reunited with Neymar and Suarez in attack and Rakitic will likely join Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in a three-man midfield.
Luis Enrique said he was not worried about which match officials would take charge of Saturday’s game.
An assistant referee last month filed an anonymous complaint through a lawyer with the state anti-corruption prosecutor claiming instructions had been given by the Spanish soccer federation’s refereeing committee to favour Real.
The federation (RFEF) and the professional league (La Liga)dismissed the allegation, although Spanish media have reported a probe has been launched by the state prosecutor.
“When that came out I asked it be investigated and that is being done,” Luis Enrique said.
“Until conclusions are drawn I won’t comment. I am not worried about who is refereeing. I am just focused on the things I can control.”
Security is being ramped up for Saturday’s game following last week’s attacks in Paris, with more than 2,000 police and other security and emergency services personnel to be deployed around the stadium.