Vilanova: Messi's not focused on breaking the record
Lionel Messi worked out in the gym as his Barcelona team-mates trained this morning, and the Argentinian could yet be fit for Sunday's match against Real Betis despite being carried off in last night's UEFA Champions League clash with Benfica.
Messi gave Barça a major injury scare in Wednesday night's goalless draw, colliding with Benfica goalkeeper Artur Moraes and then falling awkwardly in the 84th minute. But the club said last night that the 25-year-old had suffered nothing more than a bruised left knee, and have since confirmed that he had been able to work in the gym.
The final Group G game was meaningless to Barcelona, forcing coach Tito Vilanova to defend his decision to send Messi on as a 58th-minute substitute. The No10 went into the game one goal shy of Gerd Muller's record of 85 in a calendar year, but Vilanova denied that played a part in his selection.
The Barça coach said: "We talked about the possibility of him playing for 30 minutes. He's a player that likes to play.
"He's not focused on breaking the record that everyone is talking about, if that were the case he would have played against Alaves (in the Copa del Rey last week) and the full 90 minutes against Benfica. Playing is part of his physical training."
Vilanova was adamant he would not change the way Messi was handled.
"Should we sub him out every time we're leading 3-0 in case he picks up an injury?" he said. "We've never behaved this way. I'd make the same decision [to play him] seeing that he can get injured at any moment."
Vilanova made a host of changes for last night's match, several of them enforced, but Messi's apparent let-off was not the only good news on the injury front this morning. Andres Iniesta, Alexis Sanchez, Jordi Alba and Dani Alves all took part in training with the rest of the squad, while Eric Abidal was able to return to the field for lighter workouts.
Vilanova preparing for tough task in last 16
Barcelona had already secured top spot in their group, and they could now face the likes of Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk and Galatasaray in the Round of 16, although Vilanova does not have a preference.
"Whoever we play against will be a big team," he said. "The last 16 is always complicated. "We did what we had to do, we wanted to finish first and have that small advantage of playing the return leg at home."