Lionel Messi a doubt for Barcelona with 'minor annoyance' ahead of Sevilla clash

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Lionel Messi remains an injury doubt as La Liga leaders Barcelona bid to take a another big step towards a possible treble with victory at Sevilla on Saturday.

Messi sat out both Argentina‘s international friendlies due to a minor hamstring problem and although he returned to training on Thursday, coach Ernesto Valverde will delay naming his side.

“We are taking care of Messi, because he has a minor annoyance,” Valverde told a press conference. “We have to see how (Friday’s) training is going.”

Messi is determined to be injury-free as Barca embark on a hectic April fixture schedule.

Valverde’s side face seven games in 22 days, including their two-legged Champions League quarter-final against Roma and the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla on April 21.

“We are where we wanted to be,” Valverde said. “We have players to face the final stretch of the season. It will be a decisive month.

“(Saturday) is a key game. A victory would mean a lot in order to be able to win the title.”

Both sides will have one eye on the first leg of their Champions League ties on Tuesday, when Sevilla take on Bayern Munich at the Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium and Barcelona face Roma at the Nou Camp.

“I expect a Sevilla without many rotations, although they have a Champions League game. There are three important points to win (on Saturday),” Valverde added.

“We plan to not think too much about the game against Roma. We first focus on Sevilla.”

Valverde confirmed injured midfielder Sergio Busquets will definitely miss out, but is expected to return in time to face Roma.

Sevilla boss Vincenzo Montella, who will be without suspended midfielder Pablo Sarabia, has no intention of adapting his side’s style of play for Barca’s visit.

“We’ll play our own way, with our characteristics,” the former Italy international said. “We’d go crazy if we changed our way of playing.

“We’ll try and have as much possession as possible because if they have it, it could be more complicated.”

Sevilla, who qualified for the Champions League by finishing fourth in LaLiga last season, are 14 points adrift of the side which currently holds that spot, Valencia. 

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Why Barcelona are by far the unluckiest team in front of goal this season

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With an 11-point advantage over second-placed Atletico Madrid, Barcelona are clear favourites to secure the La Liga title this season.

Not only have their maintained the best defence in the league but they also boast the most prolific attacking record, scoring 74 goals so far, one more than perennial rivals Real Madrid.

However, they could’ve had so much more this term if not for the frame of the goal.

Incredibly, the Catalans have hit the woodwork a whopping 29 times in the league alone this season. That figure doesn’t just surpass that of any other team in Europe’s top five leagues, it does so by miles!

The other teams to hit the woodwork most often are Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain and Serie A outfit Inter Milan – all doing so 17 times each.

Barcelona have every right to feel aggrieved as that means they have struck the frame of the goal a massive 12 times more than any other big European team.

Lionel Messi has been responsible for a few extra coats of paint by himself around Spain. The division’s leading scorer with 25 strikes would’ve been out of sight in the Pichichi race had he not hit the woodwork 11 times on his own in the current league campaign.

Meanwhile in the Premier League, Manchester City and Liverpool have endured their fair share of misfortune in front of goal having been denied by the woodwork 16 times each.

Denied by the frame of the goal.

Denied by the frame of the goal.

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Lionel Messi set to return as Barcelona face Sevilla with unbeaten record on the line

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Barca will be hoping Messi is fully fit to play.

The last time a club was this close to an unbeaten season in La Liga, they came unstuck at Sevilla.

Barcelona, with concerns over the fitness of Lionel Messi, travel to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium on Saturday, looking to extend their own undefeated run this term to 30 league games.

It was Real Sociedad who had gone 32 without loss in the 1979-80 season, when they were only two more away from finishing the then 34-game season as invincibles.

But, in the penultimate match, Sevilla snatched a 2-1 win thanks to Ricardo Bertoni’s double, his second an 83rd-minute winner. Sevilla would finish eighth that year, Sociedad second, one point behind Real Madrid.

Barca will almost certainly not surrender the league title if history repeats itself this weekend, their 11-point lead over Atletico Madrid surely too wide a gap to close, but they would give up the chance of being the first side to end a 20-team La Liga season unbeaten.

They are now three games away from matching Sociedad´s best ever single-season streak and two from equalling that same Sociedad team’s longest run without loss overall, which amounted to 38 games when including the previous season too.

After Sevilla, Barcelona play Leganes and Valencia at home, Celta Vigo and Deportivo La Coruna away before hosting Real Madrid on May 6. They then finish at home to Villarreal, away to Levante and at home to Sociedad.

This Sevilla, although sixth and set to miss out on Champions League qualification, arguably represent Barcelona’s biggest obstacle in those final nine fixtures.

Valencia, who are fourth, and Real, who would certainly revel in scuppering the bid, will offer stern tests but both at least come at the Camp Nou. Barcelona have not lost a league game on their own patch in 19 months.

Coach Ernesto Valverde has never attached much significance to the unbeaten streak, preferring to focus his players´gaze on the title, but as that prize becomes increasingly secure, he might see it as a welcome bonus.

“We’re delighted with how things are going and that record says we must be doing something right,” Valverde said in February.

For his own legacy, it would give him something over Pep Guardiola, who oversaw only one league loss in 2009-10 and then 31 games undefeated in 2010-11, but never ended a season with a zero in the losses column.

Fatigue will certainly be a factor, and priorities too. Barcelona and Sevilla both have an opening leg of the Champions League quarter-finals to negotiate next week and, with their fates largely settled in the league, each may choose to rotate.

Sevilla are at home to Bayern Munich on Tuesday and Barca host Roma on Wednesday.

The Catalans face Valencia three days before the return fixture and, if they progress, Real the weekend after the second leg of the semi-finals. Rotation is inevitable.

For now, Lionel Messi is the key concern after he sat out both of Argentina’s friendlies against Italy and Spain over the international break due to a hamstring complaint.

Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, meanwhile, is nursing a knee problem picked up on duty with Germany and Sergio Busquets is unlikely to be risked this weekend as he nears recovery from a toe injury.

Real have been less damaged by the international fixtures but Zinedine Zidane is also expected to have one eye on Europe when he picks his team to play Las Palmas on Saturday.

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