Messi returns today with an eye on City

MADRID • Argentina's pain is Barcelona's gain as Lionel Messi returns for the Spanish champions when Deportivo La Coruna visit the Nou Camp today after being sidelined for three weeks with a groin injury.

Messi missed Argentina's World Cup qualifiers against Peru and Paraguay as his nation's struggles without the five-time World Player of the Year continued, putting at risk their place at the 2018 World Cup.

The return of Messi is good news for Barca but with a blockbuster Champions League clash against Manchester City to come on Wednesday, coach Luis Enrique is likely to be cautious with his team selection.

Messi is expected to be eased back into Spanish Primera Liga action as a second-half substitute. Meanwhile, Luis Suarez could make way for Paco Alcacer having played twice for Uruguay in the past week.

Neymar will definitely start as he returned to the Catalan capital early due to his suspension for Brazil's 2-0 win at Venezuela on Tuesday.

A 4-3 defeat by Celta Vigo two weeks ago leaves Barca only fourth in the league table.

However, they trail leaders Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid by just two points and can go temporarily to the top of the table with victory before the sides from the capital kick off later today.

Real face the toughest task on paper of the title contenders as they travel to Real Betis aiming to snap a streak of four consecutive draws.

Zinedine Zidane's men are also having a mounting injury crisis as captain Sergio Ramos is set to be sidelined for up to six weeks by a knee sprain suffered in Spain's 2-0 win at Albania in midweek.

Luka Modric is also out for the rest of the month due to knee surgery, while influential holding midfielder Casemiro is missing due to a fractured fibia.

"This match is very important for us to say - 'We're still there'," said midfielder Toni Kroos after penning a new contract until 2022 on Thursday.

"Having a string of draws is not a good thing."

Atletico lead Real at the top of the table on goal difference and they host bottom club Granada.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'Messi returns today with an eye on City'. Print Edition | Subscribe