Lionel Messi is preparing to return to action with Barcelona and is expecting games played behind closed doors to be “downright spooky.”
La Liga has been given the green light to resume from June 8 by the Spanish government, although it is expected that no supporters will be allowed to attend until at least 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Messi told Adidas he understands the need to play in empty stadiums but feels it’s a challenge that players will have to get used to.
“There is talk of finishing out the Spanish league’s season without spectators, which brings a whole set of challenges. The group preparation is the same as for any other game. But individually each person needs to prepare and visualize playing without fans, because it’s very strange. I had to do it for a home game, and it was downright spooky. But it’s normal that the league would resume this way after everything we’ve been going through. With all that’s happening in the world, it’s perfectly understandable.”
Barcelona’s first game back will be away from home at Real Mallorca. The Catalan giants won the reverse fixture 5-2 in December with Messi grabbing a hat-trick.
Memories of Barcelona 3-0 Las Palmas
Messi and Barcelona have fairly recent experience of playing competitively without fans. Their La Liga fixture against Las Palmas in October 2017 went ahead behind closed doors due to local unrest after the Catalonia independence referendum was rejected.
Barcelona won the game at the Camp Nou 3-0 with all the goals coming in the second half. Sergio Busquets opened the scoring for the hosts before Messi scored twice to complete a comfortable win.
Ernesto Valverde, who was manager of Barcelona for the Las Palmas games, has opened up on the difficulties of playing behind closed doors. He told Radio Marca it was “horrible” and added that “we weren’t ready to play that way.”
Following in the Bundesliga’s Footsteps
La Liga is set to become the second major European league to restart after the Bundesliga. Germany’s top flight has made a successful return as teams bid to complete the 2019-20 campaign on the pitch.
Defending champions Bayern Munich are on course to defend their title and manager Hansi Flick has offered his thoughts on how teams can be successful playing behind closed doors in a virtual press conference.
“What is decisive is mentality. Obviously it is an advantage if you have higher quality on the pitch but this is a situation which is not very easy. It is key that you bring that mentality to the pitch. It is important that the team pushes itself so as to cover the level of motivation that has gone missing with the empty stands.”
Barcelona were in pole position to regain their title when the season was suspended in March. Quique Setien’s side are top of the table by two points with 11 games left to play.