Lionel Messi is back in the Barcelona squad that will face second-division club Rayo Vallecano in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.
Messi has not played in the Copa del Rey this season but coach Ronald Koeman is expected to use him in the round-of-16 game after missing two matches because of a suspension. Messi had been rested before that because of an unspecified minor fitness problem.
“He’s fresh and isn’t feeling any ailments,” Koeman said Tuesday. “To win things we need Messi to be in good shape and playing at the level that he can play. He is excited to play. He is the kind of player who wants to play in every match.”
Messi received a two-match suspension for hitting an opponent away from the ball late in the team’s 3-2 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup final on January 17.
He did not play against Cornellà in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey last week, nor against Elche in the Spanish league on Sunday. Barcelona won both matches 2-0.
The Catalan club trails Spanish league leader Atlético Madrid by 10 points and is three points behind second-place Real Madrid entering the second half of the season. Atlético has a game in hand.
Barcelona has played well this year despite the loss to Athletic in the Spanish Super Cup. It has won four straight league matches, all away from home. The Catalan club is unbeaten in nine consecutive league games.