Barcelona hosts Roma in the quarterfinals of the Champions League facing doubts about the fitness of some of its top players, including Lionel Messi. Messi is expected to play in Wednesday’s first leg at Camp Nou Stadium, but he hasn’t started in three consecutive matches because of a leg muscle problem and it remains uncertain if he can play at full strength for 90 minutes. Sergio Busquets, a key piece of Barcelona’s midfield, should be in the lineup but is coming off a long layoff because of a broken bone on his foot.
Playmaker Philippe Coutinho is ineligible after playing for Liverpool earlier in the competition. Messi missed two Argentina friendlies during the international break because of an abductor muscle discomfort he felt in practice with the South American squad. He started Saturday’s Spanish league match against Sevilla on the bench, entered in the second half _ with Barcelona behind 2-0 _ and scored an 89th-minute goal that salvaged a 2-2 draw.
Messi didn’t start in Seville because he still felt some pain related to the abductor muscle, coach Ernesto Valverde said “He was still bothered, but it was already expected that he would play a few minutes,” Valverde said.
Messi has scored nine goals in his last seven matches. Busquets hasn’t played in nearly 20 days, since hurting his right foot in the second leg of the round-of-16 matchup against Chelsea. He practiced with the squad this week but it was unclear how Valverde would use him on Wednesday at Camp Nou.
If Busquets plays from the start, Valverde would be able to count on his ideal starting 11, with Messi, Luis Suarez, and Ousmane Dembele up front. Without Busquets, Paulinho would be his likely replacement as a defensive midfielder, playing alongside Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic.
Barcelona has been eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League in three of the last four seasons, including the last two in a row. The last time it made it past the last eight was in 2015, when it went on to win the European title for a fifth time.
Roma, in the quarterfinals for the first time in a decade, doesn’t have fond memories from the last time it visited Camp Nou. It lost 6-1 in the group stage of the Champions League in 2015. Barcelona is unbeaten in its last 16 matches in all competitions. At home, it hasn’t lost in 22 consecutive games, since a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final. Roma has won four of its last five games.