Lionel Messi could feature in Barcelona’s trip to Athletic Bilbao

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 02: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona conducts the ball during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Valencia CF at Camp Nou on February 02, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde revealed that he may select Lionel Messi for Sunday’s trip to Athletic Bilbao if he’s returned to full fitness.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has been struggling with a thigh problem recently and was benched for Barcelona’s 1-1 draw with Real Madrid on Wednesday in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final tie.

Without Messi, Barcelona struggled up front with an unlikely hero in Malcom rising to the occasion to grab a crucial equaliser at Camp Nou after Lucas Vazquez had given Real the lead.

Messi did come on in the game as a 63rd-minute substitute, but struggled to make an impact for Barcelona.

But Valverde has indicated that the Argentine superstar may feature on Sunday at the San Mames against his old club Athletic, despite being wary of taking any unnecessary risks on his captain.

“As always, we have to wait to make a decision,” said Valverde, via FourFourTwo.

“We didn’t want to take a risk the other day and we’re in a similar situation [on Sunday].

“He’s okay, but if he were at 100 per cent, as he has been at other times, he’d play. If he’s okay, he’ll play, and if not, we’ll have to make a decision.”

The Blaugrana have already confirmed that Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo will be sidelined for up to four weeks due to a hamstring problem.

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Meanwhile, Samuel Umtiti made a welcome return to training on Friday as he prepares to speed up his recovery from a knee problem with Ousmane Dembele expected to return to full fitness soon.

“[With Arthur] we’re losing a player who gives us control of the game, but injuries always come like that,” said Valverde.

“We have alternatives. We have [Carles] Alena, who is more attacking; Arturo [Vidal] has an attacking edge, but less control. It depends on the game.

“[Philippe] Coutinho is a possibility in terms of how we decide the match.”

He added: “Umtiti did the first part of training yesterday and we want him to do more,” he said. “Dembele’s injury isn’t as long. We’ll assess today if he’s okay or not.”

The Atheltic and Barcelona match in La Liga will begin at 8:45 PM (CET) on Sunday.