Messi in good shape as he targets 400 Barca games
BARCELONA - Lionel Messi will reach the milestone of 400 games for Barcelona when they face Levante in the King's Cup on Wednesday and coach Gerardo Martino says he is back in top condition following his hamstring injury.
It is over 10 years since the Argentine made his debut for the Catalan side in a friendly against Porto in 2003, and although then described as a prodigious talent his achievements have far exceeded expectations.
The four-times World Player of the Year's medal haul includes six La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues and his performances have seen him described as one of the best players of all time.
During 2013 he suffered several hamstring injuries, the latest in November which kept him sidelined until after Christmas.
"He has played two full games and is playing well. He feels fine so there is no longer any reason to hold him back," Martino told reporters.
"He can play all the games until for whatever reason we think that we need to rest him."
Barca will be without midfielder Andres Iniesta for the first leg quarter-final clash with Levante who claimed a draw against the La Liga leaders at the weekend thanks to a solid defensive display.
Iniesta has a knee injury and is on the sidelines along with Neymar who will be missing for several matches with an ankle ligament tear.
Martino admitted that he is also likely to rest players for the away game.
"The idea is that the players arrive at the end of the season in good condition and that is the my main concern. If we cannot beat Levante and I have decided to make changes then that is the situation. It is crucial to maintain our level of football," he said.
"We have talked about the game with Levante and looked at ways that we can break them down. The other day we didn't have enough depth."
(Reporting by Tim Hanlon, editing by Ed Osmond)