Which Barcelona star is managing an injury?
Our upcoming Champions League quarter-final opponents Barcelona maintained a 10-point lead at the top of La Liga over the weekend, by chalking up a 2-0 win over local rivals Espanyol.
Lionel Messi scored twice at the Nou Camp on Saturday, dinking in a superb free-kick after 71 minutes before doubling his tally by finishing off a late counter-attack.
The fleet-footed icon has now scored 31 goals across all competitions this season and netted 22 times in his past 15 Spanish top-flight games.
Impressively, Messi has also now surpassed 40 goals for the 10th season in a row - which is even more remarkable when you consider the revelation that he has been managing an injury since Christmas (more on that below).
It was a fitting way for the Argentinian to mark his 675th Barcelona appearance, which moved him ahead of Andres Iniesta into second on the club's all-time list - and 102 adrift of Xavi Hernandez.
While Messi was clearly the hero, he was perhaps lucky not to have seen red after appearing to kick out at former Real Madrid and QPR midfielder Esteban Granero while lying on the floor.
IN PAIN SINCE CHRISTMAS
Messi had been described as an injury doubt for the match, after missing Argentina's friendly against Morocco in midweek, but the famed no.10 played a full part in the win and showed no sign of injury.
Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde revealed ahead of kick-off that his star man has been in pain with injuries since Christmas and, as a result, the Catalan club has placed their five-time Ballon d'Or winner on a special training plan.
“He has been coping with these issues for a long time,” Valverde said.
“We were taking care of it before Christmas. We have tried to make the pain subside and we will continue doing it.
“We do everything naturally, we talk to him after suffering a little problem in training and we do everything together. We make decisions together and talk to him to see how he is.”
Barcelona's starting XI v Espanyol: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur, Messi, Suarez, Coutinho.
AN IMPORTANT WEEK AHEAD
This is clearly a pivotal and potentially taxing week for Barcelona, who have two pivotal La Liga fixtures to contest.
On Tuesday evening, our Champions League opponents face 17th-placed Villarreal at the always-intimidating Estadio de la Cerámica.
Valverde's team will then focus on the biggest remaining game of their league season, when Atletico Madrid visit the Nou Camp on Saturday evening.
Diego Simeone's men are second in the table, 10 points behind, and determined to fight for the title:
“We can't lose sight of the fact that, at any point in La Liga, competing is in our nature,” the former Argentina international said at the weekend.
“And we want to compete for La Liga until our last breath.
A POSSIBLE ADVANTAGE
In contrast to Barcelona, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United squad only have one match to contest this week - away to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League on Tuesday night.
The Reds do not have a fixture at the weekend, due to the Emirates FA Cup semi-finals taking place.
That means our preparations for the Champions League quarter-final against Barca will begin once the full-time whistle blows at Molineux.
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