Barcelona captain Lionel Messi was presented with a special signed shirt to commemorate his record-breaking 768th appearance for the Catalan giants ahead of Monday’s La Liga clash at the Camp Nou against Real Valladolid.
The 33-year-old overtook club legend Xavi to become the player with the most appearances for Barcelona earlier this season, and the club paid tribute to his latest achievement at the Camp Nou with the help of the captain’s wife Antonela Roccuzzo and the couple’s three sons Thiago, Mateo and Ciro.
Messi also posed with his teammates after being handed a shirt signed by the Barcelona squad by fellow captains Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, and Sergio Roberto ahead of what is Barcelona’s first game back after the international break.
Ronald Koeman’s side head into the game on an 18-match unbeaten run in La Liga that has helped rekindle the team’s titles hopes. The Catalan giants won the reverse fixture against Real Valladolid 3-0 back in December.
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Messi At Risk of Suspension
Messi started Monday’s match despite being at risk of a one-match suspension that would rule him out of Saturday’s crucial El Clasico against fierce rivals Real Madrid at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium.
The Barcelona captain, and midfielder Frenkie de Jong, have both received four yellow cards this season and one more for either player would result in an automatic one-match ban.
Coach Ronald Koeman’s assistant, Alfred Schreuder, spoke about the decision to start both players despite the risk of suspension before kick-off, as reported by Mundo Deportivo.
“Messi and De Jong? The most important thing is to get the three points, and if we don’t win we won’t get them. That’s why they play,” he said. “It’s good Atletico lost points but we have to focus on ourselves. If we win today, we have a big chance. It’s important to focus on our way of playing and not on others.”
Messi has been able to rest since Barcelona’s last match against Real Sociedad two weeks ago as Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers were postponed, meaning the captain should be well-rested for Monday’s encounter.
The 33-year-old has been in superb form once again this season and particularly since the turn of the year. Messi has 12 goals and 6 assists for Barcelona in his last 10 matches in all competitions.
Barcelona To Cut Gap To One Point?
Monday’s match offers Barca the chance to cut the gap to league leaders Atletico Madrid should the hosts emerge victorious. Diego Simeone’s men, who led the table in Spain by 10 points in January, were beaten 1-0 by Sevilla on Sunday and have lost their way in 2021 after a superb first half of the campaign.
A victory for Barcelona against Real Valladolid would put the title in the Catalan giants’ hands and mean they will be crowned champions if they go on to win their final nine games of the season.
Yet there are some testing fixtures ahead for Koeman’s side. Real Madrid is up next in El Clasico, while Barca will play Atletico Madrid in what could be a title-decider at the Camp Nou in May.