MADRID (AFP) – A Barcelona side missing injured Lionel Messi face Sporting Gijon in the first of three away games in a week, as they battle to keep pace with La Liga leaders Real Madrid on Saturday.
Messi suffered the recurrence of a groin strain in Wednesday s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid that will keep the five-time World Player of the Year sidelined for the next three weeks.
His absence could have a bigger impact on Argentina than Barca because the two-time world champions will be without their captain for World Cup qualifiers against Paraguay and Peru.
However, Spanish champions Barca have three tricky obstacles to overcome in the next week as they head also to Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League on Wednesday before another away trip to Celta Vigo next Sunday.
“We all wish that he was with us. The team is stronger with him than without him, but these unexpected situations happen,” Barca captain Andres Iniesta said on Thursday.
“Squads win titles. Individuals help, but it is the squad as a whole that wins things.”
Without Messi, Barca s other two star forwards Luis Suarez and Neymar will be expected to take on extra responsibility — just as they did in scoring 16 goals in the six league games Messi missed during a two-month injury layoff last season.
Sergio Busquets also came off early against Atletico due to the after-effects of a fever, but should be fit to start in Asturias.
Arda Turan is the favourite to replace Messi after deputising ably on the other side of the Barca frontline when Neymar was absent at the start of the season because of his participation in the Rio Olympics.