BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Lionel Messi will miss Barcelona's Spanish league game at Malaga on Sunday while he recovers from a muscle injury in his left leg.
Barcelona said on Saturday that even though Messi's "progress is satisfactory,'' coach Gerard Martino left the Argentina forward out of his squad as a "precaution.''
"We are optimistic, but it's risky to play him again three days later with the league just under way,'' said Martino. "I think Messi is fine and I'm not worried about what has happened or what's being said. He prepared well during the summer holidays. What happened the other day was a coincidence.''
Messi bruised a muscle in his left thigh during the first half of Wednesday's 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. With Messi substituted at halftime, new signing Neymar went on and scored the equalizer for his first goal with his new club. The return leg is set for this Wednesday at Camp Nou.
Martino said that Messi's absence Sunday doesn't guarantee that Neymar will get his first start for Barcelona. Neymar has been recovering from a case of anemia which the Brazil striker developed after having surgery on his tonsils this summer.
"Neymar is getting better each day. He has more training sessions under his belt and knows the squad and club better,'' said Martino. "We have to ease him forward little by little so that everything goes well. Just because Messi isn't there doesn't mean that Neymar will take the helm. We have many good players to challenge Neymar for a spot in the starting 11. He can play in any game, but nothing has changed because he scored against Atletico.''
Martino also chimed in on rival Real Madrid's reported bid for Tottenham winger Gareth Bale, which could surpass its record deal for Cristiano Ronaldo of >80 million ($131 million) in 2009. Spanish media reports place Madrid's offer for Bale between >77-85 million.
"He looks like a good player,'' said Martino, while adding: "The price is a lack of respect considering how the world is right now.''
In June, Barcelona paid Santos (euro) 57 million ($74 million) to acquire the 21-year-old Neymar.
Martino, who guided Newell's Old Boys to the Argentine league title last season, took over Barcelona last month after former coach Tito Vilanova stepped down to fight a recurrent throat tumor.