| Lionel Messi |
Barcelona: Lionel Messi has gone from being the first name on Barcelona’s team sheet to the last, as they await a late fitness test ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League quarter final second leg at home to Paris St Germain.
The World Player of the Year is recovering from a hamstring strain in his right leg picked up in Paris last week, when he scored in the 2-2 first-leg draw, though Barca proved they could survive without him by thrashing Real Mallorca 5-0 in La Liga on Saturday.
Despite fielding a weakened side, the leaders ran riot at the Nou Camp with a hat-trick from Cesc Fabregas and two from Alexis Sanchez but PSG are a tougher proposition than La Liga’s basement side.
Favourites Barca are chasing a fourth Champions League crown in eight seasons and leading marksman Messi usually provides the cutting edge on the big stage by setting up and scoring goals. His mere presence provides a psychological lift to his side and a big headache for opponents.
The Argentine did some fitness work on Sunday and Spanish media reported he was one of a group of players who turned up to work on Monday despite the squad having been given the day off.
With La Liga all but in the bag, as Barca lead second-placed Real Madrid by 13 points with eight games left, coach Tito Vilanova may be inclined to risk his prize asset against PSG.
Vilanova also has to decide who will partner Gerard Pique in the centre of the defence as Javier Mascherano is out with a knee injury and Carles Puyol is a doubt as he recovers from knee surgery.
Inexperienced former youth-teamer Marc Bartra performed well alongside Pique on Saturday but versatile full back Adriano Correia is close to fitness again and midfielder Alex Song could even be drafted in at the back.
“We’ll see what options we have against PSG,” Barca’s assistant coach Jordi Roura said. Eric Abidal’s emotional playing return as a substitute on Saturday, a year after having a liver transplant, puts him in the running but he is unlikely to start.
PSG’s influential centre back Thiago Silva is in the squad after sustaining a knee injury in the first leg and missing Saturday’s 2-0 win at Stade Rennes in Ligue 1.
On Saturday, coach Carlo Ancelotti had seven of the 11 players who started the first leg either on the bench or not even on the team sheet as he looked to rest tired legs. Ancelotti, however, has a problem to solve in midfield due to the absence of the suspended Blaise Matuidi.
David Beckham is a probable starter after a decent performance in the first leg, with the second holding midfielder spot likely to be between Italian Marco Verratti and Frenchman Clement Chantome.
Italy midfielder Thiago Motta could also play there but he has only featured once in more than two months because of a groin injury.
Jeremy Menez’s fine performance against Rennes may not have been enough for him to take the place of Ezequiel Lavezzi or Lucas. Centre back Alex has recovered from a thigh problem and is in the squad.
“We have to take it as a great day for us. We are in an extraordinary position,” sports director Leonardo told French media. “Barcelona are 20 years into their project. PSG have started a great chapter in their history but the squad only started working together 20 months ago.”
In Turin, Antonio Conte made an uncharacteristic hash of his team selection against Bayern Munich last week and the Juventus coach cannot afford to get it wrong again as his side chase a two-goal deficit.
The Serie A champions and leaders, lucky to escape with a 0-2 defeat after they were hopelessly outclassed in the first leg of their Champions League quarter final, must also overcome the absence of suspended midfielder Arturo Vidal in the return.
The Chilean is arguably their most influential player after playmaker Andrea Pirlo although his absence could set the stage for young midfielder Paul Pogba, this season’s Juve revelation, who came off the bench in the first match.
Bayern Munich were crowned Bundesliga champions on Saturday with six games to spare but foregoed the traditional beer-showers and Lederhosen celebrations as they immediately turned their attentions to Wednesday’s match at the Juventus stadium, where no foreign team has won a game since it opened in 2011.
“We’ve hit our first major target, but if we want to crown the season we have to keep going,” said Uli Hoeness, president of the treble-chasing Bavarians.
“We now want to turn a super season into a super plus season. Not taking this chance of making the Champions League semi-finals, and then the cup semi-final next week, would be fatal.”