Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

Lionel Messi closing in on fitness for Barcelona ahead of La Liga return

Captain and top goalscorer in Spain looks on course for season restart opener against Real Mallorca next Saturday

Lionel Messi returned to the Camp Nou on Saturday after missing two group training sessions with a slight leg injury.

Messi trained alone indoors on Wednesday and Friday, but worked on the sidelines of a group session at Barca's home stadium.

The Barca captain, who has scored 19 times in 22 outings, making him Spain's top goalscorer this season, continued to work separately but photographs released by the club indicate his recovery is on track.

La Liga leaders Barcelona play their first match since mid-March at Real Mallorca next Saturday.

Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez will be fit to play for the first time since undergoing knee surgery in January after reporting feeling no pain following training.

Messi and Suarez have scored 38 goals between them in all competitions this season.

Barcelona lead Real Madrid by two points at the top of the table with 11 matches remaining.

After an almighty push by all parties concerned La Liga roars back into action next week after a three-month pause due to the coronavirus crisis.

The season resumes on Wednesday in bizarre circumstances with the second half of a Segunda Division match between Rayo Vallecano and Albacete that was abandoned in December due to offensive chanting.

The restarting gun will be properly fired with Thursday's derby between Sevilla and Real Betis, while champions Barca play on Saturday and title rivals Real Madrid hosting Eibar on Sunday.

All matches will be played without spectators for safety reasons, although broadcasters plan to replicate crowd noise for television viewers, which will include a minute of applause for Spain's Covid-19 victims.

Spain's footballers have welcomed the return of the season, although they concede it will not be the same without the supporters.

"It's going to be a very strange sensation. Football is all about the fans," said Atletico Madrid's Marcos Llorente.

Spain manager Luis Enrique went further: "Playing matches without supporters is sadder than dancing with your sister," he said. "But we have to understand this is a global business and even though the spectacle will be very different, it can help us pass the time and get through this moment."

The fight for Champions League football is even closer, with five teams - Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Getafe, Atletico Madrid and Valencia vying for third and fourth place.

The bottom 10 sides are separated by only 14 points, meaning the fight to avoid relegation will be just as gripping.

Espanyol are currently rock bottom – six points away from safety – with Leganes, then Mallorca above them.

Updated: June 6, 2020 07:16 PM

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