Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has admitted Lionel Messi could miss the Catalan club’s opening game of the new La Liga season against Athletic Bilbao on Friday.
Messi has been struggling with a calf strain, and did not travel with the squad to the USA for Barcelona’s two pre-season games against Napoli, which they won 2-1 on Thursday and 4-0 on Saturday.
There had been hope that the 32-year-old may recover in time to start in Barca’s opening game, but this is looking less likely following Valverde’s comments.
Following the side’s latest victory over Napoli, in which Luis Suarez scored twice, Antoine Griezmann bagged his first for the club and Ousmane Dembele also found the net, Valverde said: “I would love it if Messi was on holiday, but he’s injured.
“I wish we could have him here and count on him for Friday [against Athletic Club] but it’s difficult to see.”
The loss of Messi would come as a blow to Barcelona, who will be looking to win their third La Liga title in a row.
Valverde, however, was positive about the team following their win in Michigan, and reserved special praise for Frenkie de Jong, the summer signing from Ajax who could be in line to start against Bilbao.
“We played well and with intensity. The game was good, and we created goals,” Valverde said. “The balance between defence and attack was good.
“I have the same plan for him (de Jong) as I have for the others. There are a lot of players who can operate in central midfield.
“Today (against Napoli) he has shown he is a great player. He can play in any position and that will be apparent. I think we made a great signing.”
Barcelona are likely to prioritise victory in the Champions League next season, having failed to win the competition since the 2014-2015 season, and therefore may rest Messi for certain La Liga games.