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Malaga v Barcelona: Messi set for welcome return

Lionel Messi is expected to return to the Barcelona side for the Liga trip to Malaga on Saturday.

The Argentine forward missed Barca’s Copa del Rey semi-final first leg victory at Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday – coach Luis Enrique unwilling to risk his talisman who had been struggling with a hamstring complaint.

However, Messi trained as normal with his team-mates on Thursday and should be available at La Rosaleda this weekend.

Aleix Vidal, however, could be a doubt after sustaining a concussion against Bilbao. Vidal was not involved in full training on Thursday in the build-up to the game.

Gerard Pique will also be absent for Barca due to suspension, with Thomas Vermaelen expected to deputise, and Jordi Alba is struggling with a muscular problem. Sergi Roberto could fill in at left-back after he drew rave reviews from Luis Enrique for his display at Bilbao in midweek.

Reacting to Roberto’s performance, the coach commented: “It has been great because it cannot be easy having to defend against a player like [Inaki] Williams, who is very physical.

“Sergi has a very powerful physique and can become a great full-back.”

Malaga, who have not lost a home game in La Liga since November 7, are capable of springing a shock according to midfielder Ignacio Camacho.

“You have to take it as a game where three points are on offer, like any other match. It is true that it is difficult, but we have big games against top teams this year,” Camacho told Sur.

“We have to [produce] a complete game and we will go for the points. It has worked well all week, and the coach has told us exactly what we need to do on the field.”

Malaga sit 12th in the standings, eight points above the relegation zone after an impressive run of form which has included four wins and a draw from their past six league matches, and Camacho has been pleased with his side’s performances.

“Against Sevilla we did not get a point [Malaga lost 2-1 in their last league outing], but the performance of the team was very good,” he said.

“We have to keep (going) and not give up.”

Arthur Boka misses out for Malaga through suspension, with Miguel Torres set to come into the side at left-back.

Key Opta stats:

– Malaga have won just one of their last 20 league games against Barcelona and it was at Camp Nou (D2 L17).
– At home, Malaga have played 14 La Liga games against Barcelona and they have won just one – 5-1 in December 2003 (D5 L8) with a hat-trick by Salva Ballesta.
– Javi Gracia’s team have lost just one of their last six league games at home (W4 D1).
– The Blaugranas have lost just one of their last eight league games against Andalusian sides (W6 D1), with an average of 3.37 goals for and 0.62 against.

Thu 21 Jan, 2016
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