Barcelona forward Lionel Messi will make a return to training with the Catalan giants later this evening as he steps up rehabilitation from a thigh problem, with a surprise return to action against Elche this weekend not out of the question.
Messi has been sidelined since mid-November through injury and has spent most of the last month back in his native Argentina receiving treatment, but the star now ready to make a return to competitive training ahead of schedule.
The 26-year-old flew back to Barcelona late last night and was excused from their morning session today as a result, but will return to training this evening along with Pedro and Victor Valdes.
This weekend's clash with Elche may come too soon but next Wedensday's Copa del Rey tie with Getafe looks a more likely prospect, particularly if Barca boss Gerard Martino decides to stay on the side of caution and not rush Messi back too soon.
Barca are currently level on points at the top of La Liga with Atletico Madrid, leading the pack by virtue of goal difference despite holding a five-point advantage on perennial title rivals Real Madrid.
Martino could do with Messi fit and firing at the earliest possible opportunity, with 14 goals in 16 appearances across all competitions so far this season a measure of his continued importance for the Catalan giants.