Football

Jordi Alba: We're fitter than before, Messi's enthusiasm is contagious

With his clean-shaven look, Lionel Messi looks like a man reborn as Barcelona prepare for La Liga's resumption in eight days.

The Argentinian talisman's rejuvenation is more than just skin deep, though. His new-found exuberance is even rubbing off on his teammates, as La Liga clubs returned to full training on Monday.

Left-back Jordi Alba told TVE: "He's a vital player for us and we should enjoy having him all the time.

"Seeing Leo with the enthusiasm he's come back with is contagious for the rest of the group."

Goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen reiterated his captain's influence, telling the Barca website: "I'm sure that opponents haven't forgotten him and I don't think they are very happy to have to face him again."

Alba added that the Catalan giants are in better shape than before the league was suspended in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Mentally and physically, we players have come back really well I would say, even better than we were before," he said.

That would spell trouble for Real Mallorca, who will host Barcelona on June 13, two days after La Liga restarts behind closed doors with Real Betis visiting Sevilla in the Seville Derby.

La Liga's plan is for games to take place every day across five weeks, with the season ending on July 19.

If league leaders Barca are to consolidate their two-point lead over Real Madrid and land a third straight title, Messi - who leads the scoring charts with 13 goals - would likely have no small part to play.

When Messi signed his current four-year contract in 2017, there was a clause that allowed him to leave for free, provided he told the club before June 1 each year.

There had been much speculation earlier this year over whether the six-time Ballon d'Or winner would activate that clause, after former Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti claimed that the Nerazzurri could make a move for him.

Through social media, Messi later denied that he would be leaving his boyhood club. His free transfer clause expired on Sunday

But the Blaugrana would need to start contract talks soon, as Messi, who turns 33 later this month, would be free to talk to other clubs in January.

Football