By Will Butcher
Celtic’s chances of clinching a top-three finish in their Champions League group suffered a blow on Monday when Lionel Messi returned to training with Barcelona ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash between the two sides.
The 29-year-old missed Barca’s La Liga clash against Malaga on Saturday, after being sidelined with illness. In Messi’s absence, the Spanish giants were held to a 0-0 draw.
However, Sky Sports reported that Messi will now be available to face Brendan Rodgers’ side on Wednesday night after returning to training on Monday.
The Argentina captain is set to lead the line for Luis Enrique’s world beaters, with Luis Suarez also set to return after serving a one-match suspension against Malaga.
Messi’s return will come as a blow to Celtic, after his absence on Saturday had given the Hoops hope of repeating 2012’s feat that saw Tony Watt score an 82nd-minute winner in a 2-1 win.
But the return of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will reduce the chances of that remarkable night, as he looks to secure three points against the Scottish giants to claim top spot in Group C ahead of Manchester City.
Forming a third of Barcelona’s deadly front three, Messi has scored an incredible 16 goals in just 14 games, as well as adding seven assists in all competitions this season.
Football Insider verdict:
Messi’s return to the Barcelona side will reduce the slim chances of Celtic securing European football after Christmas. Rodgers’ squad need to finish third in the group if they want to achieve a knockout spot in the Europa League, and currently sit two points behind German outfit Borussia Monchengladbach. A Barcelona side without Messi would have given Celtic hope, and a good chance, of beating their Group C rivals under the lights at Celtic Park. But with a player of Messi’s quality coming up against the defence of Celtic, it is difficult to see the Hoops being able to secure any kind of result. They instead will have to rely on Man City picking up three points against Gladbach to keep their Europa League hopes alive.
In other Celtic news, this is the best possible side Rodgers can pick to face Barcelona.