Messi injury: Out for seven to eight weeks
The Argentine is out for seven to eight weeks after suffering ligament damage against Las Palmas on Saturday and his absence represents a huge blow to the team's title hopes
A sunny afternoon at Camp Nou against a promoted team looked like the ideal way for Barcelona to boost morale after Wednesday night's 4-1 loss at Celta Vigo. But disaster struck after just nine minutes as Lionel Messi limped off through injury. And just after the game, fans' worst fears were confirmed.
The Argentina attacker was taken to hospital for tests and initial reports claimed he would miss the next three weeks. If that seemed bad enough, the news confirmed by the Catalan club following the final whistle was even worse: ligament damage in his right knee and an expected recovery time of seven to eight weeks.
That means Messi could miss Barca's next eight or nine games (including Champions League clashes against Bayer Leverkusen and BATE Borisov, both home and away, plus Liga meetings with Sevilla, Rayo, Eibar, Getafe and Villarreal.
If he is available again after seven or eight weeks as predicted by Barca, the 28-year-old could be involved in the Clasico on November 21 at the Santiago Bernabeu - and everyone involved with the club will be crossing their fingers that he will be ready to return for what is likely to be a vital fixture in the title aspirations of both teams.
However, the Clasico clash comes exactly eight weeks after his injury and unless he can recover faster than expected, Messi is likely to be doubtful for the date in Madrid.
Asked after the 2-1 win against Las Palmas if he would be available for the game against Real, Luis Enrique said: "I'm not looking at the calendar. We are focused on the next game - against Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday."
However, the Asturian coach did admit that his side will need to make some serious improvements after relying on the Argentine to dig them out of a hole on several occasions already this season.
"We will keep playing as we have been, but there are some aspects that Messi resolved and perhaps we will have to be stronger in those collective aspects. Messi's injury is a test and an added motivation for us."
FULL STORY | Messi out for up to two months
In the Champions League, Barca will be expected to beat Leverkusen at Camp Nou and are likely to have little trouble against BATE home and away, but Messi's injury could have serious ramifications on their Liga campaign.
A tough trip to an albeit off-form Sevilla side next weekend will be the first test in the Argentine's absence, with the game away to Getafe next month traditionally a tricky fixture for the Catalans as well. Home matches against Rayo Vallecano and Eibar in October should present few problems, but Villarreal at home in November is a challenge, and the Clasico (which comes after an international break in November) could be even more difficult than usual after Real Madrid's strong start to the season.
Against Las Palmas on Saturday, Luis Suarez scored two fine goals to steer Barca to victory in a timely return to form. His header from a superb Sergio Roberto cross made it 1-0 in the first half and he blasted home at the far post early in the second period following a delightful dummy by Sergio Busquets.
Neymar missed a penalty after that as he smashed his effort over the bar and Barca conceded following a mistake by Javier Mascherano as their defensive problems continued. Goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen, unfortunate here as the ball deflected past him, has now conceded in his last 10 appearances for the Blaugrana, with 16 goals let in this term already in seven games (the same as in his 21 appearances in 2014-15).
So the defensive issues need to improve, while there will be added responsibility for both Suarez and Neymar as Messi sits out the best part of the next two months.
"There is always someone out and the team has to react," Luis Enrique added. "I don't like to put all the responsibility on one player. We have many quality players and we accept the challenge."
Fighting talk. And how those players react now could hold the key to Barca's hopes of retaining La Liga in 2015-16.
Barcelona 2-1 Las Palmas