Lionel Messi will be absent from tomorrow night’s Champions League clash between Celtic and Barcelona it was confirmed yesterday, after the striker picked up a thigh injury in the course of scoring his side’s opener in their 2-0 win over Almeria on Saturday.
It is positive news as far as Celtic are concerned, but is tempered by the fact Barcelona posted further notice that they remain a side to be reckoned with under new manager Gerardo Martino. The weekend victory in Andalucia set a club record seventh straight victory at the start of a La Liga campaign.
They also have the Brazilian forward Neymar, signed in the summer from Santos for nearly £50 million, waiting in the wings. The 21-year-old did not take part in Saturday’s victory against Almeria and will arrive in Glasgow today feeling fresh ahead of the Group H clash.
However, Messi, whose goal on Saturday was his 11th of the season, will not be in the travelling party and is expected to be sidelined for up to three weeks.
“Leo Messi has a small injury to the biceps femoris [thigh] in his right leg,” a statement released by Barcelona explained yesterday. “This was confirmed by medical tests undertaken by the player on Sunday morning at Medical Services Sport City.
“The Argentinian will be out for approximately two to three weeks, which will certainly force him to miss Barcelona’s two games this week – on Tuesday against Celtic and next Saturday, at the Camp Nou against Vallodolid,” the statement added.
He is also a doubt for Argentina’s next two World Cup qualifiers, against Peru and Uruguay.
Barcelona are already missing several members of their defence ahead of the clash with Celtic tomorrow night. Javier Mascherano, who has been in good form this season, was ruled out in midweek with a hamstring problem, joining Jordi Alba on the sidelines. Alba, who scored a late winner for Barcelona at the Nou Camp against Celtic a year ago, is also suffering from a hamstring injury, while veteran centre-back Carles Puyol is still recovering from his long-term injury problems.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon will welcome the news about Messi’s absence as his side attempt to emulate their famous victory from last season.
Celtic achieved one of the surprise results of last season’s Champions League group stage when Tony Watt’s late goal inflicted a rare defeat on Barca.
Messi did play that night and scored Barcelona’s even-later consolation in the 2-1 defeat. He also played in Barcelona’s 2-1
victory at home against Celtic earlier in the group stage but, on that occasion, failed to score.
Lennon pondered his side’s approach to the game after Saturday’s 5-2 victory over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
The visitors had led 3-0 at one stage in the first half before being pegged back to 3-2. However, they made the game safe in the second half by scoring a further two goals, with Greek forward Georgios Samaras completing a hat trick.
Lennon knows Celtic cannot afford to be careless at the back tomorrow evening against a side primed to attack from kick-off.
“They are notoriously fast starters,” he said. “In the recent game against Sociedad they were three up in 15 minutes, so we have to be very wary of that.”
Celtic learned the importance of scoring the first goal against Barcelona in November, when Victor Wanyama headed in a first-half opener. Watt then doubled the lead in the second half and, although Messi pulled one back at the end, it was too little, too late for the stunned visitors.
Lennon hopes to welcome winger James Forrest back after a virus and midfielder Beram Kayal back from a groin strain, although midfielder Joe Ledley will miss out with a groin injury.
Defender Adam Matthews was forced off in the game against Kilmarnock suffering from a possible virus, but he should be available for selection.
“Injury-wise we are okay,” said Lennon. “Adam felt a bit ill.
“Maybe there is a virus going about so we have to keep an eye on that but with Kayal and Forrest joining the squad tomorrow, we are looking a wee bit more vibrant again.”