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Messi to close in on record against Benfica


09:20, December 05, 2012

Messi (Xinhua)

MADRID, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- FC Barcelona have one main question hanging over them ahead of Wednesday's Champions League game at home to Benfica: Will Leo Messi play?

Depending on whether you consider Messi's first goal against Athletic Club Bilbao to be his or an own goal (and the referee gave the goal to Messi), the Argentinean has netted either 83 or 84 goals in all competitions in 2012, meaning he is either one or two goals away from leveling Gerd Muller's all time record of 85 goals in a year.

With Messi scoring goals at an average of two a game for the past month, the record looks almost certain to fall, but with Barca facing tough league games away to Betis and at home to Atletico Madrid in the coming weeks, goals may not be as easy to come by between now and the end of the year.

Barca coach Tito Vilanova didn't play Messi in his side's Copa del Rey tie against Alaves taking away one opportunity for the striker to reach his target, but even though Barca are already assured of finishing top of their qualifying group, Europe is different to a second leg cup tie when the first leg had been won 3-0 away from home.

Barca have no obligations, but the game is important given that Benfica need to win in order to assure their place in the next round of the Champions League. The Portuguese side are level on points with Glasgow Celtic, who need to better Benfica's result in the Camp Nou in their home match against Spartak Moscow to themselves book a place in the last 16.

Given that Barca don't take on Betis until Sunday night, Vilanova is likely to field a strong squad, with players such as Sergio Busquets, who is suspended for the weekend, David Villa, Thiago Alcantara, Christian Tello and Martin Montoya all given a full 90 minutes.

Others such as Xavi Hernandez, who is on the verge of his 650th appearance for Barca, and Andres Iniesta may start the game on the bench, but it would be a surprise if Messi missed out.

Wednesday also sees Valencia play away to Lille, the Spaniards have qualified for the last 16, but sacked coach Mauricio Pellegrino on Saturday to replace him with Ernesto Valverde on Monday.

As a result the match gives the players a chance to show their commitment to their new coach ahead of a tough weekend visit to face an improving Osasuna in the BBVA Primera Liga.

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