Iniesta: Messi's return is great news
© AFP

Midfielder Andres Iniesta is hoping Barcelona will pick up where they left off before the winter break as they prepare to face Elche in La Liga.

Barça are top of the league standings, level on points with Atletico Madrid but at the summit thanks to goal difference. They face Elche, who are just two points above the bottom three.

Barça finished 2013 strongly with five straight wins across all competitions, and with January set to be a busy month with six games, Iniesta wants more of the same. "The team is in very good shape and feeling very positive indeed," Iniesta told the club's official website.

"We need to carry on as we ended last year. The key is not think any further beyond our upcoming match, first we should worry about the weekend fixture and then change the chip and start thinking about the cup".

Barcelona play Getafe in the Copa Del Rey round of 16 just three days after their league match against Elche. However, the Catalan club has been boosted by the return of striker Lionel Messi from a month's rehabilitation in his homeland of Argentina, though their first game comes too early for the forward.

Messi flew back to Barcelona on Wednesday after completing the final stage of his recovery from a thigh injury.

Martino insisted that his compatriot looks in fine shape, but is still someway short of being fully match fit. "In my view Messi is full of desire, I think he is in very good shape physically and has the look of a killer," said Martino. "He needs to gain more rhythm from training with his teammates and then in competitive action, but he is doing very well."

Barça are hoping that Messi will be fit to play some part in their top-of-the-table clash away to Atletico Madrid next weekend. And Martino wants to ensure that his side maintain their position as league leaders with a win against Elche ahead of their trip to the Vicente Calderon.

"There is no reason why we should take a step back in the way we have been playing. "The players have returned in good shape and we hope to start the league again with a high level of performance."

Iniesta was positive to have the four-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner back in their ranks. "This is one of the best pieces of news of the day," the Spaniard added.

"We all know how much weight he carries in this team. Messi is the number one and when you've got a player as good as him in your side, everything is that much easier."

Meanwhile, Elche coach Fran Escriba is hopeful of taking points off Barcelona at the Nou Camp despite three consecutive defeats at the end of last year. "Although there no one has made a point there, we go with the intention to do so," he told elchecf.es.

"We have to be brave and try to find the goal because it is difficult to think that they will not scored and the match will end in a goalless draw. We are excited to visit the Camp Nou, but, although it is complicated, we will not give up the game as lost. If we thought it was impossible, we wouldn't play football."

However, Iniesta fired a warning to all teams who will visit the Nou Camp, adding: "A good new year for us means winning everything.

"When you have the chance to reach the top, you have to fight hard, and that's the kind of ambition that we hope will take us into April and May in contention. The team is playing well, and we need to grow from here. The squad is good enough to carry on winning".