MANCHESTER, England — Lionel Messi is likely to sit out Barcelona’s trip to Huesca this weekend after being left with a bloodied face following a clash with Manchester United defender Chris Smalling, sources have confirmed to ESPN FC.
Smalling clattered into Messi to win the ball in the first half as Barca won 1-0 at Old Trafford on Wednesday to take a slender advantage into next week’s Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Camp Nou.
Messi ended the game with bruising and swelling around his nose and cheek and will undergo tests back in Barcelona on Thursday to determine the severity of the blow.
Sources told ESPN FC that Barca are hopeful there’s no fracture but that manager Ernesto Valverde will take advantage of the knock to rest the Argentine forward against Huesca on Saturday. The Catalans have an 11 point lead at the top of La Liga and can afford to be without their top scorer.
In the worst case scenario, Messi will have to wear a mask for the second leg against United, but the initial diagnosis suggests that will not be necessary.
“It was a big blow, Messi has a scar and he bled a lot,” midfielder Sergio Busquets told reporters. “It was obviously uncomfortable for him but he put on a brave face and played as best as he could, as he always does.”
Barca failed to build on their lead and United grew into the game in the second half, but ended the 90 minutes without registering a shot on target.
“We put in an excellent performance defensively, we’re in our best form in defence of the season,” centre-back Gerard Pique told reporters. “The early goal relaxed us and we knew how to cope with the situation, the fact we didn’t concede helps us a lot.
“It’s very difficult to come here, it’s an historical ground, there’s a sensational atmosphere and you get put under a lot of pressure.”
Barca have fallen in the quarterfinals in each of the last three seasons but their win at Old Trafford — their first away from home in the Champions League knockout rounds since 2016 — leaves them in a good position to make their first semifinal since they won the competition in 2015.
They’re unbeaten in 30 European matches at Camp Nou going into next week’s second leg, but Pique says United should not be written off after a remarkable turnaround against Paris Saint-Germain in the last round.
“After seeing what they did against PSG there’s no reason at all to believe the tie is over,” he added. “PSG were the clear favourites then, they played far better and look what happened. Anything can happen in football so we’ll have to focus very hard.”