Gerardo Martino says he will not send Lionel Messi back into action until the Barcelona attacker is 100 percent sure in his head that he has overcome all his recent injury issues.
• Ledwith: Sanchez and Pedro dispose of Elche
Messi has not played since early October, and spent the last two months back home in Argentina recovering physically and mentally from the series of thigh muscle injuries which so affected his 2013.
Although he returned to full training with his Barca teammates last week, Messi watched from the Camp Nou stands on Sunday as Barca thrashed Elche 4-0 in their first game of 2014, thanks to an Alexis Sanchez hat trick and Pedro Rodriguez strike.
Martino told his postmatch news conference that the blaugrana talisman was physically fine now but called for patience as it made sense to wait until he felt "secure" he could play again without thinking of the injuries.
“[Messi] is good, he has trained very well and looks good to me both in body and spirit,” Martino said. “Whether he plays in the next games will depend on how things go day to It also has a mental side -- whether he has overcome the injury in his head. Sometimes there is still a bit of fear and when he gets over that part he will start to play.
"Physically he is very good. It is something imminent, but we are not going to put him in if he is not ready, if he does not feel secure. He has made such a big effort to reach this point that the only thing to do now is have some patience. With the best player in the world back we will improve even more.”
Reports in Catalonia suggest Messi could get some minutes as a substitute in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey last 16 first leg against Getafe at the Camp Nou, before starting Saturday’s huge La Liga game at co-leaders Atletico Madrid.
Martino, who is not short of options with Alexis, Pedro, Neymar and Cesc Fabregas all also in form and available to play up front, suggested he would take no risks against a side who had to be taken seriously as title challengers.
“I believe that Messi will be fit to play against Atletico, but we are not going to put in players who are not ready just because it is Atletico,” he said. “We know the importance of the game, they are the in-form team, they have a chance to win La Liga and the Champions League. If we put a spy in that dressing-room I am sure they are saying the same. They have a team to do great things.”
With Barca facing a likely eight games this January, the Argentine coach said he would continue a rotation policy designed to ensure the team is in the best condition possible at the decisive end of the season.
“I have not even decided the XI for Wednesday in the Copa, which is also very important,” he said. “Although Saturday is supposed to be one of the biggest games of this moment, I am not going to change how I act and start thinking about Atletico when we have Getafe in our path first. I cannot assure it, but I believe we must arrive at the final part of the season in better shape than last year, when the team suffered many setbacks and injuries. I hope we do not suffer that this year. I believe our best moment is still to be seen.”