By Michael Wood
BARCELONA superstar Lionel Messi has been declared fit to face Celtic at Parkhead in tomorrow night’s crucial Champions League tie.
After the international break, the Argentinian along with Luis Suarez missed the club’s La Liga fixture at the weekend through illness and suspension respectively. Yet, they will line-up against The Hoops as Barça aim to secure qualification to the last 16 from Group C.
Messi has been the central focus in the mini blip that the Catalan giants have been going through recently. The 29-year-old has almost exclusively renewed his contract before it had less than two years to run. However, with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, the voices have become louder than ever that the Sky Blues can coax him away from Spain to England on a pre-contract in January 2018.
The protracted contract issue has run parallel with the kind of poor form that can only be described as such at a club like the Blaugrana. They were thoroughly bettered at the Etihad in their last Champions League fixture when they lost 3-1 and less than a fortnight later drew 0-0 at home with mid-table Malaga to trail unbeaten Real Madrid by four points.
Not only can Brendan Rodgers take some solace from his opponents’ patchy form, but also the fact that Luis Enrique will be unable to field Andres Iniesta or Samuel Umtiti as they miss out through injury.
Nonetheless the Northern Irishmen knows the importance of Messi can have to the fortunes of Barcelona, saying: “If he plays then he’s arguably the world’s best player. He’s shown when he does play they are a different team.”
The Celts manager will be hoping to keep him quiet and look to avoid a repeat of the last meeting between the sides that ended 7-0 to the La Liga Champions in September. He will be hoping that his talismanic striker Moussa Dembele will do what he failed to do in the Camp Nou and add to his goal tally and as a result his ever rising transfer valuation.
The French Under 21 internationalist has scored 16 times in 25 appearances for the Glasgow outfit, including five in Europe since his seven-figure move from Fulham in the summer.