Barcelona vs. Malaga - The Importance of Resting Lionel Messi

David Ramos

Barcelona did not even call up Leo Messi for the Malaga clash today after he left the Spanish Supercup game against Atletico Madrid with an injury. The Argentine superstar has endured a string of niggling injuries lately after not missing many minutes, for any reason, for at least two seasons prior.

I sense a disturbance in the Force.

Never mind, it's just that Lionel Messi is injured, not playing, and something is not quite right in the football world when that's the case.

Barcelona limped to a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in the Supercup first leg on Wednesday with Messi missing half the game due to a muscular injury. Neymar would save the match by scoring the equalizer, but there were very few positives otherwise.

It's not been a full week and Barcelona have another difficult match, this time away to Malaga. Messi is not even in the match squad, which, given the circumstances, is a good thing.

Before his injury in the Champions League first leg against Paris Saint-Germain, Messi had played 88% of the possible minutes he could have with Barcelona. Since, he's played 29%. Of the past 27 matches he played with Barca or the Argentine national team, Messi has only completed one. And he's set to miss one more.

Those are shocking statistics for a player that seemed to have more endurance than Wolverine in the past few years. It recalls his early years in the first team, where he played only in fits and starts as he suffered a series of various injuries.

In the Pep Guardiola years, he became close to Juanjo Brau, a physio credited with Messi's progression from injury-prone to bionic. Brau monitored Messi's life, improving every part of his routine to ensure maximum fitness. Read this article by Ben Hayward for more details.

Messi still follows the diet and training regimen from those days, but the results have not been the same lately. Coach Tata Martino blamed only "bad luck", saying there was nothing to be worried about. The injuries could - could - be a series of random events that do not point to a larger fitness problem.

But the Barcelona faithful are jittery because the team has looked like a shadow of itself without Messi firing on all cylinders. Not only that, but all Argentines must feel nerves thinking Messi may not be fully fit for the World Cup this year - which would be something not unlike a national catastrophe.

Maybe it's not bad luck but his body cashing the checks of match after match without injury. Last year, Messi logged 4,096 minutes for Barcelona, most in the squad. It's easy to blame Tito Vilanova - who was criticized for not rotating enough - but the year before, Messi was on the pitch for an astounding 5,042 minutes under Guardiola.

The year before? 4,675. Even in the 2009-10 season, Messi still played 3,636 minutes - and none of this is counting his frequent national team duties.

Barcelona and Real Madrid managers are wary of playing even one match without their top guns. A "slip" of drawing away to a very good team such as Sevilla or Real Sociedad could mean the difference between a league crown and second place.

Therefore Martino has to make the tough choice and sit Messi when he's not fully healed. So far, he's done that - again Messi won't even be on the bench for the Malaga game today.

Messi is working extra hard to be available for the Supercup return leg in midweek. If he is fit, that's a good thing. But there is no need to push him to play if he's not fully ready. The Supercup is relatively inconsequential. The health of the world's greatest player is not.

By all accounts, Messi wants to play every single second - even if it's half fit or hobbling. It's desirable that a player has that competitive spirit. But at some point, someone must save him from himself.

Martino has to show, once again, who the boss really is.

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