MADRID (AP) — While Barcelona remains silent about Lionel Messi’s health, Real Madrid’s only concern is who to leave out for their Copa del Rey semifinal on Wednesday.
The suspense about Messi’s right leg injury entered a third day on Tuesday, with Barcelona still quiet about the full extent of the problem and not saying whether he will be available.
It was an unusual delay by the club, which normally is quick to release reports about its players’ injuries.
Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari said the uncertainty wasn’t affecting his team’s preparations.
“It’s always good to have the best players playing in every match,” he said on Tuesday. “Whether he plays or not, it’s not going to influence how we prepare for the game.”
Madrid arrives for the first-leg match at Camp Nou enjoying its best period of the season and with nearly all of its players available. Solari has all of his best forwards, including an in-form Karim Benzema, the quickly maturing Vinicius Junior, and a fully fit Gareth Bale.
“It’s harder when you have all the players available, because it means you have to leave someone out,” Solari said. “It’s one of the hardest parts of the job for a coach.”
Bale is one of the many Madrid players who have recovered from injury in recent days, along with other forwards Mariano Diaz and Marco Asensio. Bale returned as a starter on Sunday alongside Benzema and Vinicius Junior as Alaves was beaten 3-0 in the Spanish league, the team’s fifth consecutive win in all competitions.
Solari may not start Bale with Vinicius Junior on Wednesday as they usually play on the same part of the field and their presence could make the squad too unbalanced and more vulnerable defensively.
There is little doubt Benzema will start, as he has six goals in the last four matches. The French striker has 18 goals, six more than he had in all of last season.
It would also be hard to leave out Vinicius Junior, who has taken full advantage of Bale’s absences to become a regular starter and a popular player with Madrid fans. The 18-year-old Brazilian has added flair to the attack.
Messi was hurt on Saturday when Barcelona drew with Valencia 2-2 at home, a result that halted the team’s eight-game winning streak in the Spanish league. The club has yet to release a full medical report on the injury, and he didn’t practice with his teammates on Monday.
Messi has scored in nine straight games in all competitions, and is the league leading scorer with 21 in 22 matches.
He missed Barcelona’s 5-1 league rout of Madrid in October because of a broken right arm. He was rested two weeks ago when Barcelona lost at Sevilla 2-0 in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals.
This first-leg semifinal in the Copa del Rey is the first of three matches between the rivals in less than a month.
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