Barcelona: Lionel Messi has warned Manchester City he will be fully fit and ready to destroy their Champions League hopes when Barcelona arrive next month.
The Argentine has been struggling with injury but returned to first-team duties earlier this month and now — no doubt motivated by his wish to win back the Ballon d’Or from Cristiano Ronaldo — he has City in his sights.
“I will be at 100 per cent in a few weeks and certainly expect to be at my best when we face Manchester City,” said Messi. “The Champions League remains the big target.”
It is an ominous warning for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, particularly as the intensity of the rivalry between Messi and Ronaldo to be seen as the world’s best was laid bare on Monday.
The first leg of the Champions League last-16 meeting is still a month away, on February 18, by which time the 26-year-old will have fully recovered from his hamstring injury.
He made his comeback on January 8, scoring twice in a 4-0 win over Getafe, showing no ill effects from a 59-day absence.
Messi offered a dignified response to losing the Fifa World Player of the Year title he has held for the previous four years, saying: “It was a deserved recognition for Cristiano. I don’t know if my last injury affected the result. The truth is I was out of action for a long time. I’ve not yet played a full game practically.
“When Fifa changed the voting deadline I was injured and away from all that. But that’s it, it wasn’t to be this year, Cristiano won it and there’s nothing more to say.
“But it’s OK, I couldn’t win it this year, and Cristiano did because he had a great year, as did Franck Ribery. Either of the two would have been a fair and deserving winner.”
Messi will see the World Cup and this year’s Champions League as the ideal opportunity to re-establish his position as the No. 1, although he denied it has become a personal battle with Ronaldo.
“It’s not between Cristiano and me, the battle is between Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as Atletico Madrid,” he said. “We all want to achieve our objectives this season, which is to win La Liga and the Copa del Rey like always. Barcelona is always aspiring to win the biggest titles as it is such a big club and has to fight for everything.
“Argentina is a great national team. We are always favourites in a World Cup. But, of course, we have to be careful, we have to remain focused during the tournament,” he added.
Speaking about World Cup, Diego Maradona has stressed that it would be unfair to blame Messi if the Albiceleste do not win the tournament.
The 26-year-old has received his fair share of criticism for his inability to replicate his club form for the national team in the past - though he put in a number of impressive performances for Argentina in 2012 and 2013 - and failed to guide his country beyond the quarter finals in 2010.
Maradona, who coached Argentina in 2010 edition, insisted that Messi cannot be held responsible for Argentina's results. “The one thing that I can say is that if we do not win the World Cup, we should not blame Messi for it,” Maradona said on Argentine television.
“I am convinced that Leo will play well at this summer's tournament.”