While the Argentine’s long-term future remains firmly in the balance, he remains an ace for a team that is otherwise of ordinary quality.
That was made all the more evident on Tuesday as they were held to a 1-1 draw against Eibar at Camp Nou. Barca overwhelmingly dominated the game but they were unable to find a breakthrough against a team fighting relegation and had to rely on an Ousmane Dembele equaliser to secure a point.
Trailing leaders Atletico Madrid by 10 points having played a game more at the start of the weekend, Barca’s prospects of the title are already slim, and anything but a victory against the bottom side will definitively see them cast simply as challengers for a top-four spot during the remainder of the season.
It is an embarrassing position for Barca to find themselves.
Messi, then, will be thrust back into the starting XI after overcoming a minor ankle issue while Dembele may also start after his successful cameo. As such, Antoine Griezmann will fight Martin Braithwaite for the centre-froward role.
Ansu Fati remains injury and it seems doubtful that Philippe Coutinho will play again this season as he needs knee surgery.
Sergio Busquets is again set to be left on the bench, with Pedri and Frenkie de Jong primed to start. Miralem Pjanic, meanwhile, is likely to be the third member of the central trio.
After playing with three centre-backs in each of the last two matches, Barca may shuffle back into four-man defence, probably at the expense of Oscar Mingueza. Either way, Jordi Alba is a certain starter on the left.
Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto are both still missing.