FIFA Ballon d'Or holder Lionel Messi will miss Barcelona's trip to Malaga on Sunday due to a thigh injury, the club have confirmed. The Argentine was taken off at half-time in Barça's 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in the first-leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Wednesday and won't travel with his teammates to Andalusia.
"His progress is satisfactory, but he has been left out as a precaution," said a statement released by the club on Saturday.
However, manager Gerardo Martino refused to confirm that Messi's absence would mean a first start in a Barça shirt for Neymar.
The Brazilian came off the bench to score his first goal for the club against Atleti in midweek, but Martino is still not convinced that he can last 90 minutes having missed much of pre-season due his participation in the FIFA Confederations Cup and an operation to remove his tonsils.
"Neymar is improving all the time. The number of sessions he has done is growing and he is getting to know the squad and the club," he told a press conference on Saturday. "We have to take it bit by bit so that everything goes well in the end. My intention is that when he plays he is able to show all that he can do. Just because Leo isn't there, doesn't mean Neymar has to take the reigns."
Martino though stressed that his side won't have any excuses should they fail to collect the three points against Malaga.
"To have or not have the best player in the world with you makes it a different game. But we have a lot of very good players to play a good match and the absence of Messi shouldn't give us any excuse."
Just as he did for the second-half at the Vicente Calderon in midweek, Cesc Fabregas is expected to take Messi's place in the side. Otherwise, Martino is expected to name the same side that started against Atletico as captain Carles Puyol continues his recovery from a knee injury.