Soccer — Spanish LeagueSaturday, January 11, 2014
Atlético prepares for Messi after injury return
MADRID — For Atlético Madrid, Lionel Messi has returned at the worst possible moment. And the Barcelona forward is eager to make up for lost time going into what could prove the most important games of the season.
Messi is back from a two-month injury layoff and is available today at the Vicente Calderón Stadium, where Barcelona takes on co-leader Atlético.
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino’s biggest dilemma doesn’t seem to be tactical, but whether or not to play Messi from the start.
“He hasn’t asked me to start. He’s told me he feels in perfect playing conditions,” Martino said yesterday. “It’s not an easy decision to make because we’re talking about the world’s best player. And Leo is coming off a long period of inactivity.”
Messi certainly didn’t show any lingering effects from a left hamstring injury when he came off the bench to score twice in Wednesday’s 4-0 cup win over Getafe.
“What we have to evaluate is if he can play 90 minutes, which we’ll decide tomorrow (today). We’re not going to waste all of the work and hours put in by Barça and Argentina’s physical trainers, and even by him himself, to get back on the field,” Martino said. “When it comes time to decide we’ll forget about the opponent and remember that this is not a game being played (at the end of the season) but on January 11. It is a decisive match, but not crucial.”
Curbing Messi’s desire to play when injured has been one of Martino’s greatest tasks since taking over from Tito Vilanova. Martino suggested Messi will play as a substitute in Madrid.
“Leo likes to starts and finish games, so the best way to keep him calm is to start him on the bench before letting him come on,” the Argentine coach said.
Atlético coach Diego Simeone was preparing his team for Messi, as well as Neymar who has been cleared to play after picking up a stomach bug.
“Barcelona without Messi tomorrow (today)? We don’t believe that. I can’t imagine him sitting out the game tomorrow (today), although it’s always a possibility,” Simeone said yesterday. “But my players aren’t afraid of anyone, and that’s key.”
Simeone has maintained a mantra of teamwork and humility as keys to his team’s success, qualities the former Argentina international believes helped the club win its last title — in 1996. Only Deportivo La Coruña and Valencia have broken the Barcelona-Real Madrid monopoly since.
Yesterday, Recio scored two goals to help lift Granada to an easy 4-0 win over Valladolid. Recio, whose full name is José Luis García, followed up Jeison Murillo’s acrobatic 11th-minute opener by scoring from a corner in the 23rd for the hosts to seize control of the game at Los Carmenes Stadium.
Recio took advantage of a defensive mishap in the 54th to make it 3-0 before Youssef El Arabi finished off Granada’s victory with the final goal in the 77th.
Granada improved to ninth at the halfway point of the season, while Valladolid remained in the relegation zone.