Lionel Messi lasted just 45 minutes on his return to Barcelona’s starting lineup on Tuesday night, before being replaced with a fresh injury to worry boss Ernesto Valverde.
The Argentine superstar was crowned the world’s best footballer by FIFA for a sixth time in Milan on Monday night.
And he duly started at Camp Nou against Villarreal on Tuesday evening – despite having only returned to Catalunya at 2 am.
The 32-year-old has been a substitute in each of the Blaugrana’s last two matches, against Borussia Dortmund and Granada respectively, as he continued his recovery from a calf problem.
But with the Spanish champions having failed to net in either of those encounters, he was recalled from the start for the La Liga showdown with Javi Calleja’s men.
Messi started in attack with Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann and teed up an early opener for the £108million Frenchman.
However, just after the 30-minute mark, Messi suffered an issue that saw him exit the field to undergo treatment.
The issue wasn’t the calf worry that has plagued his beginning to the campaign, but rather a thigh problem.
Barca doctors worked on it for a number of minutes, before the Argentine returned to the fray.
However, he labored until the whistle and at half-time, the decision was made to keep Messi off in the second period, with Ousmane Dembele replacing him.
With Barcelona boss Valverde already under-fire after a disappointing start to the campaign, there will now be questions asked over starting Messi – especially following his appearance at the Teatro Alla Scala the previous evening.
Valverde confirmed post-game: “He had some discomfort in his adductor.
“We preferred not to risk him.”
Messi has already been ruled out of the weekend meeting with Getafe and will undergo more tests tomorrow.
Arthur added to Griezmann’s opener with a fine long-range effort before Santi Cazorla struck from distance himself just before the break.
However, a goalless second period ensures Barca claimed victory, and move to within one point of the summit.