By Tim Hanlon
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Lionel Messi is set for his first start for nearly two months when Barcelona, fresh from pulverising Real Madrid 4-0 at the weekend, set their sights on Champions League qualification when AS Roma visit the Nou Camp on Tuesday.
A draw will be enough for last season’s treble winners, five points clear at the top of Group E, to reach the last 16 for a 12th consecutive season and have Messi ready to start having come on as a substitute against Real on Saturday.
Messi had been out injured since the end of September but Barca have coped well without their talisman with strike partners Neymar and Luis Suarez in blistering form.
Suarez hit two and Neymar got another in the demolition of Real, taking the pair’s total to 19 goals in seven games.
“It was a great performance. We can enjoy it now but we have some very difficult games ahead starting with Roma,” midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who returned after a calf injury, told reporters.
“Messi is a very important player and thank god he is back playing with us. His injury (knee ligament) was more serious than mine and he needed longer to recover but we all know how vital he is to the team.”
Roma and Barca drew 1-1 in the Italian capital in September.
Suarez gave Barca the lead but Alessandro Florenzi scored an extraordinary goal from a seemingly impossible position on the right touchline, nearly 50 metres from goal, to level.
Roma, second in the group one point ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and two clear of BATE Borisov, were held 2-2 in heavy rain on Saturday by lowly Bologna and are fourth in Serie A.
“We battled hard and tried to play our game despite the weather and the main thing is that we got a point,” fullback Maicon told reporters.
“It will be a different type of game on Tuesday and we are going to have to step up a level.”
(editing by Justin Palmer)