Messi’s fitness keep PSG guessing

MADRID – Lionel Messi has gone from being the first name on Barcelona’s team sheet to the last, as they await a late fitness test ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal second leg at home to Paris St Germain.
Messi (left) is recovering from a hamstring strain picked up in Paris last week, when he scored in the 2-2 first-leg draw. Net photo.
Messi (left) is recovering from a hamstring strain picked up in Paris last week, when he scored in the 2-2 first-leg draw. Net photo.

Today

Quarter final 2nd Leg:
Barcelona vs PSG 20:00 SS3
Juventus vs Bayern 20:00 SS5

MADRID – Lionel Messi has gone from being the first name on Barcelona’s team sheet to the last, as they await a late fitness test ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal second leg at home to Paris St Germain.

The World Player of the Year is recovering from a hamstring strain picked up in Paris last week, when he scored in the 2-2 first-leg draw, though Barca proved they could survive without him by thrashing Real Mallorca 5-0 in La Liga on Saturday.

Despite fielding a weakened side, the leaders ran riot at the Nou Camp with a hat-trick from Cesc Fabregas and two from Alexis Sanchez but PSG are a tougher proposition than La Liga’s basement side.

Favourites Barca are chasing a fourth Champions League crown in eight seasons and leading marksman Messi usually provides the cutting edge on the big stage by setting up and scoring goals.

His mere presence provides a psychological lift to his side and a big headache for opponents.

The Argentine did some fitness work on Sunday and Spanish media reported he was one of a group of players who turned up to work on Monday despite the squad having been given the day off.

With La Liga all but in the bag, as Barca lead second-placed Real Madrid by 13 points with eight games left, coach Tito Vilanova may be inclined to risk his prize asset against PSG.

Vilanova also has to decide who will partner Gerard Pique in the centre of the defence as Javier Mascherano is out with a knee injury and Carles Puyol is a doubt as he recovers from knee surgery.

Inexperienced former youth-teamer Marc Bartra performed well alongside Pique on Saturday but versatile full back Adriano Correia is close to fitness again and midfielder Alex Song could even be drafted in at the back.

“We’ll see what options we have against PSG,” Barca’s assistant coach Jordi Roura said.

Eric Abidal’s emotional playing return as a substitute on Saturday, a year after having a liver transplant, puts him in the running but he is unlikely to start.

Juventus plot Bayern ambush

Antonio Conte made an uncharacteristic hash of his team selection against Bayern Munich last week and the Juventus coach cannot afford to get it wrong again as his side chase a two-goal deficit on Wednesday.

The Serie A champions and leaders, lucky to escape with a 2-0 defeat after they were hopelessly outclassed in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal, must also overcome the absence of suspended midfielder Arturo Vidal in the return.

The Chilean is arguably their most influential player after playmaker Andrea Pirlo although his absence could set the stage for young midfielder Paul Pogba, this season’s Juve revelation, who came off the bench in the first match.

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