Lionel Messi in a FC Barcelona jersey
File photo of Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi, who came into the Barcelona unit late in August after Copa America, spent most of his time on the bench after picking up a calf injury. The first time he was on the football pitch was as a substitute in the Champions League fixture against Borussia Dortmund, which they managed to draw, thanks to Ter Stegen’s heroics. Later in the week, he made his first appearance in the league against Granada, which they lost 2-0.

Messi’s first start of the season came on Tuesday’s home game against Villarreal, with huge pressure on the team after a very ordinary start to the tournament.

We’ve started badly and are struggling to create play and chances. It’s just the start, but we have to respond now,” Messi was quoted as saying prior to the match, after he won the FIFA Best Men’s player award. There’s no more time, and we have to improve a lot. We’re aware of this. It’s a team thing. I have no doubts that we’ll improve.

I have been out of action for two months and I notice this. I feel fatigued and heavy, lacking rhythm,” he said about his injury.

And with this fatigued feeling, Messi started the match against Villarreal, but could not drag himself till the half way mark. Just before the half time whistle, Messi limped off the pitch and was substituted at half time.

Though the Sport reported that he had received treatment for quite a while, Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde said after the match that his substitution was only precautionary.

“It’s some discomfort in the abductor and so we didn’t want to risk it,” he said.

Messi’s fitness has been reflecting in Barcelona’s performances, with them yet to register an away win this season. Valverde reiterated the importance of Messi saying the “world stops” if something happens to Messi.

“When something happens to Messi, the world stops. Not only here at Barcelona. I don’t think it is serious. We did not want to take any risk. We will see anyway. We will see tomorrow. I cannot tell you anything now. He has been injured for a long time and we do not want to take any risks at the moment.”

Barcelona might have registered a win against Villarreal, but they would want Messi fit as early as possible, given their record without the Argentine.