Stepping out of the star’s shadow
Barcelona, November 5
Lionel Messi could make an earlier return than expected against Inter Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday but Barcelona have hardly missed him. Four wins out of four, including a stroll past Inter Milan and a hammering of Real Madrid so severe it cost their coach his job, mean Messi reunites with a team enjoying its strongest run of the season, ironically without its star striker.
Barca will certainly be delighted, relieved even, when his recovery is complete. The club have named Messi in their squad for the match at the San Siro, even if he is yet to be given the medical all-clear. His involvement could be either as a substitute or it could even be delayed until Sunday, when Barca host Real Betis in La Liga.
Perhaps it will depend on how much Barca need him and, in that respect, Messi’s absence has been less pronounced than many predicted 15 days ago when he tumbled and broke his right arm against Sevilla.
Circumstances have helped. After Inter, came Real, who were in a mess, Cultural Leonesa, who play in Spain’s third tier, and Rayo Vallecano, who are 19th in the table. But wins, in any form, cannot be overlooked. More crucially, key players have delivered while others, less prominent, have stepped up.
Luis Suarez scored twice on Saturday, the second an 89th-minute winner to complete a late comeback against Rayo. After six games without a goal, he has now hit six in his last four. “We know how many goals Luis and Leo have scored together,” Ivan Rakitic said after the match. “We want Luis to keep this run going, of course, but we’re also looking forward to Leo coming back.”