Messi hoping for an end to fitness woes
Lionel Messi says his wish for 2014 is to be free of injury, while suggesting that he is unlikely to make his comeback in Barcelona's first game of the new year at home to Elche on Jan. 5.
Messi had an injury strewn 2013, picking up the first of a series of thigh muscle problems in early April and never really looking 100 percent fit until a decision was taken in October for him to spend the last two months of the year recuperating back home in Argentina.
The Barca talisman told DeporTV show Mundo Leo that 12 months of full fitness would do nicely.
"There are many important things on a personal level, but in sport for 2014 I would ask for a year without injuries," Messi said. "The objective now is to get ready physically -- and the idea is to play a few practice games with my teammates before playing [competitively] again."
This means it is more likely for Messi to be eased back into action with a substitute run against Getafe in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, Jan. 8, to be ready to start in the huge 'top of La Liga' game at Atletico Madrid the following Saturday.
The Argentina captain said he was making sure not to rush anything at present.
"After spending new year with my people, I'm flying to Barcelona on Jan. 1 and we'll then have to see when I'll be fit to make my return," Messi added.
Barca fans can also look forward to soon seeing goalkeeper Victor Valdes and midfielder Xavi Hernandez back in action, with both having returned from their Christmas holidays fit enough to take a full part in training.
Blaugrana defender Gerard Pique -- speaking after playing in the Catalan national side's 4-1 win over Cape Verde in Barcelona on Monday afternoon -- told Marca that everyone at the Camp Nou was delighted to have such key men available again.
"The return of Messi, Valdes and also Xavi being back is the best christmas present possible," Pique said. "It is good for all the players to be available for the coach, so there is more competition for places.
"Leo is the best in the world. If he is not there you miss him, of course. The team was able to live without him for these weeks he was not there, but he is the best and gives us so much. To win things you need everyone to be well. That is obvious, but you do not need to hide it. We have the luck to have him in our squad."
The cultured centre-back said neither he nor his teammates would forget about focusing fully on the Elche game before starting to think about meeting in-form Atletico at the Estadio Vicente Calderon.
"We cannot forget about the game against Elche, because if we drop points there it will be a handicap for the rest of the season," Pique said. "We are going from game to game and must focus on Elche."