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Wait and see game for Messi

MADRID, Spain, December 7- Lionel Messi could yet be available for Barcelona at Real Betis on Sunday, despite being stretchered off the field against Benfica in the Champions League.

The league leaders go to Seville looking to defend a six-point advantage over Atletico Madrid and 11 over Real Madrid at the scene of the latter’s latest upset a fortnight ago.

Betis beat Real Madrid 1-0 on that ocassion and will be formidable opposition for Barca but Messi himself believes there is plenty of talent in the squad if he is not available to play with what has been diagnosed as a bruised knee.

“The team will be the same, with or without me, there are more than enough players to do the job. I feel fine, but I don’t know yet if I will be available for Sunday,” he said.

No decision will be made on Messi’s involvement before he trains on Saturday but whether the initial fears that he could be out for some time appear to be unfounded.

Within 12 hours of leaving the pitch he was back in the gym doing a recovery session on Thursday but he explained how he too was worried.

“On the stretcher I thought the worst, of the pain torturing me, of being out for a long time,” he explained.

Cesc Fabregas also spoke of being initially worried for the Argentine, but also believes he could still feature at Betis.

“We were worried about Messi but we’re happy he’s fine now, knowing him he’ll want to play on Sunday,” he said.

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Messi needs to hit just one more goal to equal Gerd Mueller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year in 1972.

However with two further league games and a cup match to go before the end of the year it would not be a shock to see him rested at Betis as a precaution.

Barca have both Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba available again and only Alexis Sanchez and Dani Alves are long term casualties.

Betis midfielder Ruben Perez was full of praise for Sunday’s opponents.

“They are the best team in the world, they keep the ball all the game and it’s difficult but we’ll go out looking for points and try to win,” he said.

On his own side’s start, that sees Betis fourth on 25 points, he continued: “The atmosphere is great and we’ve got some good points so far, we’re up there and we have to keep working hard because in football a bad run can come at any time”.

Behind Barca the two Madrid sides anxiously wait for a slip-up.

Atletico entertain Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday while Real Madrid go to Valladolid on Saturday looking to build on a morale boosting week.

The 2-0 derby victory at home to Atletico last Saturday was followed by a 4-1 Champions League mauling of Ajax on Tuesday with the added bonus of resting several key players.

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Captain Iker Casillas is only looking forward as his team battle to stay in the title race.

“We can’t afford the luxury of dropping any more points in the league, Valladolid will be a complicated game for us, they are playing good football and come on the back of a win in Sevilla,” he said.

Michael Essien is back in training for Madrid and could feature in Valladolid but Fabio Coentrao who picked up a muscle injury against Ajax is doubtful.

Felipe Luis and Cristian Rodriguez will not be available for Atletico through injury and Diego Simeone must lift his side after the derby defeat and Thursday’s 1-0 Europa League loss at Viktoria Plzen that saw the current holders qualify second in their group behind the Czechs.


Espanyol v Sevilla (2030 GMT)


Real Sociedad v Getafe (1500 GMT), Malaga v Granada (1700 GMT), Valladolid v Real Madrid (1900 GMT) Osasuna v Valencia (2100 GMT)


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Levante v Mallorca (1100 GMT), Athletic Bilbao v Celta Vigo (1600 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Deportivo La Coruna (1800 GMT), Betis v Barcelona (2000 GMT)


Rayo Vallecano v Zaragoza (2000 GMT)

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