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Messi returns for Barca as Koeman warns against dropping more points

Messi returns for Barca as Koeman warns against dropping more points
Written by Maritime First

…As Manchester United close in on Liverpool, with win over Aston Villa***

Lionel Messi has recovered from an ankle injury and ready to take on Huesca on Sunday.

Barcelona look to get their La Liga season back on track following last week’s surprise 1-1 draw at home to Eibar, coach Ronald Koeman has said.

Barca’s all-time top scorer watched on helplessly from the empty Camp Nou stands as his side struggled against the minnows but Koeman said his captain had been working overtime to return to fitness.

“Messi is in good shape, he trained on December 30 and 31, even when his teammates had days off, and he’s not feeling any discomfort anymore,” Koeman told a news conference on Saturday.

“He’s ready, he’s feeling happy and very determined and that’s very important for us.”

Messi is now into the final six months of his contract with Barca and has stated he will not decide his future until the end of the campaign, but Koeman said the uncertainty was no distraction for his side.

“Like any player who is finishing their contract, he is free to decide what he wants,” he said.

“He’s proved he wants the best for this team and I have no problem with him not making his decision now.

“We aren’t feeling nervous or worried about it.”

Barca’s draw with Eibar left them sixth in the standings and 10 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who also have a game in hand.

Koeman, however, repeated his earlier belief that his side were slipping out of the title race.

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“I’m a realist when it comes to our chances of winning the league.

“We cannot afford to drop many more points, and as Atletico are so consistent, it’s very difficult for us.

“ Each point lost is another chance gone,” he said.

While Messi returns against Huesca, Barca will be without Philippe Coutinho, who underwent surgery on a knee injury and will be out for around three months.

The Brazilian is the fourth player the Catalans have lost to a long term injury this season after Ansu Fati, Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto.

“We will keep working with what we have but we have lost important players of real quality,” added the Dutch coach.

The coach also sent his best wishes to former Barca team mate Eusebio Sacristan, who is in an induced coma after suffering a fall.

In another development, Manchester United closed in on the pole position in the English Premier League (EPL) on Friday after a 2-1 home win over Aston Villa.

The victory put them level on points and games played with champions and leaders Liverpool.

Manchester United trail their traditional rivals on goal difference with both teams on 33 points from 16 matches.

Liverpool travel to Southampton on Monday.

Manchester United stretched their unbeaten league run to 10 games as Bruno Fernandes capped another fine individual performance with a penalty kick.

This was after Bertrand Traore had canceled out Anthony Martial’s opener for the home side.

The hosts had the upper hand in the first half and Martial forced an acrobatic save from Emiliano Martinez.

He later buried a superb diving header past the Aston Villa goalkeeper after Aaron-Wan Bissaka’s cross in the 40th minute.

The visitors came close through Ollie Watkins before Traore got on the end of a sharp Jack Grealish pass at the far post.

He beat Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea with a slick shot from close range in the 58th minute.

But Aston Villa’s joy was short-lived as Fernandes drilled his penalty kick into the bottom right corner three minutes later.

This came after Paul Pogba went down under a challenge from Douglas Luiz, with the spot-kick given after a VAR check.

 

 

 

Reuters

 

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Maritime First