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Justin Bieber inspires Southend

The Toe Poke

Busquets in fitness race for Bayern tie

Sergio Busquets is Barcelona's main fitness concern for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final second leg at home to Bayern Munich, after Lionel Messi confirmed his return to form with a scintillating goal in Saturday's 2-2 La Liga draw at Athletic Bilbao.

Busquets missed the game with a groin problem and did not train with his colleagues at Barca's Ciutat Esportiva on Sunday morning. The Spain international 'pivote' is expected, however, to be fit to start Wednesday's game at the Camp Nou, where Barca must reverse the 4-0 defeat from last week's first leg in Munich.

Better news for blaugrana fans is that defender Javier Mascherano appears close to a return just four weeks after seriously injuring his knee during the quarter-final first leg at Paris Saint-Germain, according to a club statement released on Sunday.

The statement read: "The players who started the game in San Mames (2-2), together with Adriano and Messi, did recovery exercises plus physio treatment in the gym. Meanwhile, the rest of the squad exercised on the pitch under a rain-filled Barcelona sky. Two of the players who did not make the trip to Bilbao, Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano, also exercised out on the pitch but separately from the main group. Busquets was rested for the game as a precaution due to his groin discomfort, while Mascherano is suffering from a knee ligament problem picked up in the game against PSG."

If Mascherano is not declared fit in time to return, youngster Marc Bartra, who was rested in Bilbao, will start alongside Gerard Pique at centre-half on Wednesday, as Adriano is needed at left-back to replace the suspended Jordi Alba. David Villa and Cristian Tello are options should coach Tito Vilanova wish to replace Pedro Rodriguez, who was again subdued in Bilbao, up front.

Barca's hopes of an unlikely comeback against Jupp Heynckes' side are focused on Messi, who looked sharp during his 30 minutes on the pitch on Saturday. He scored a superb solo goal just six minutes after entering as a substitute, before two minutes later assisting Alexis Sanchez's second goal.

Sanchez, who now has three goals and four assists in his last five games, hailed Messi's influence when speaking with reporters after the game.

"We know what it means to have Messi on the pitch, it doesn't surprise us, when he comes in, he changes the game," Sanchez said. "He is the best player in the world, and his appearance was tremendous. We are going to fight until the end against Bayern."


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