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Messi back in the saddle

Barça, at full strength for a key game after Madrid's win yesterday. Celta, who beat Luis Enrique's side back in Week 5, are without their attacking trio (20:30 CET).

It hasn’t turned out to be the most comfortable season for Leo Messi in terms of physical issues – there was a knee injury in September, a couple of muscular problems and kidney stones on December, the latter requiring shock wave treatment last week. But the Argentinean hasn’t lost his smile, he’s revving up for the decisive part of the campaign with this being a key week – if the team can win all three of their next league games – against Celta, Sporting de Gijón (set back to a later date while Barça were contesting the Club World Cup) and Las Palmas, they will open up a three-point lead at least in the table. The first of those tests comes tonight against Eduardo Berizzo’s Celta – smarting from missing out on a place in the Copa del Rey final

Messi’s in fine fettle, as are Neymar and Luis Suárez. All three were rested for Barça’s Cup semi-final decider mid-week so the Catalans will be the fresher of the two teams at Camp Nou this evening. Arda Turan has shaken off the foot problem which kept him out of Wednesday’s Cup tie and is expected to come in for Rakitic as Luis Enrique will send out his strongest XI against Celta.

Berizzo has injury problems – he’s without Fontàs, Nolito, Sergi Gómez, Bongonda, Iago Aspas and Orellana, but his team won’t lose their identity against Luis Enrique’s team, who they thrashed 4-1 in Vigo in Week 5. The Argentine coach will likely go 4-2-3-1 to concentrate as much of the game as possible in the centre of the park and rely on the pace of his forwards – Guidetti and Beauveu, to hit their hosts.

It’s a shame that Celta are shorn of Aspas and Orellana – both serving bans. Camp Nou would also have enjoyed seeing Nolito, one of their own from the youth academy and the focus of a conflict between Luis Enrique and the board: the coach wants him, Director of Sport Robert Fernández has hi doubts.