With Messi back, Barcelona face free-falling Sevilla
MADRID: Lionel Messi is back, and just in time.
Fully rested after the international break and a yellow-card suspension, Messi returns to Barcelona's team for the decisive Spanish league match against Sevilla on Wednesday.
Messi will be playing his first game in nearly two weeks when Barcelona resumes its pursuit of league leader Real Madrid at the Camp Nou. Barcelona is two points behind Madrid, which plays at Leganes later Wednesday.
"We saw Messi practice at the highest level," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. "The mini break that he had was very positive."
Messi's last game was on March 23 with Argentina in World Cup qualifying, a 1-0 win over Chile with a penalty kick converted by the playmaker. But he didn't play in the national team's 2-0 loss to Bolivia five days later because of a four-game suspension for insulting a linesman, then missed Barcelona's 4-1 win at Granada over the weekend.
Messi is the Spanish league's leading scorer with 25 goals and has 41 overall this season from 40 matches.
The 29-year-old Argentine has not gone two consecutive games without scoring since early September. He has scored 10 times in his last nine league games.
Neymar and Luis Suarez, who led Barcelona against Granada, are also expected to play on Wednesday, when Barcelona will try to win its sixth straight match against Sevilla.
Sevilla enters the match enduring its worst moment of the season, coming off five consecutive games without a win. Among the setbacks was the disappointing elimination to Leicester in the last 16 of the Champions League.
"It's not easy. We all thought that we were going to get past Leicester. It's difficult for us to accept it," Sevilla forward Stevan Jovetic said. "We have to find a way to recover. We are the same team that we were five matches ago, when we were in second place. We need to win a match by two or three goals to regain our confidence."
Sevilla was fighting for the league title not long ago, but now it sees itself 10 points off the lead, in fourth place and already having to worry about qualifying for the top European club competition next season.
"Maybe the elimination against Leicester affected them," Luis Enrique said. "It's not their best moment, not their best dynamic, but they remain a difficult rival."
Madrid, which has a game in hand, faces a Leganes squad that has drawn its last three matches and is struggling to avoid returning to the second division next season. It is 17th in the 20-team standings, only one spot above the relegation zone.
"No one should think that we will easily beat Leganes, that doesn't exist in football," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said.
Madrid has won four in a row in the league and has scored at least a goal in its last 50 games in all competitions.