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Monday 5 December 2016

'Barcelona will not change without Messi' vows Luis Enrique as talismanic striker faces prolonged period on the sidelines

Barcelona's Lionel Messi grimaces as he lies on the pitch after injuring his left knee during their Spanish first division soccer match against Las Palmas at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona
Barcelona's Lionel Messi grimaces as he lies on the pitch after injuring his left knee during their Spanish first division soccer match against Las Palmas at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona

Bayer Leverkusen are hoping to capitalise on the absence of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi when they face the Spanish side at the Nou Camp on Tuesday.

Messi, who scored a total of 60 goals and set up 28 more in 60 appearances to help Barca capture a Primera Division, Champions League and Copa del Rey treble last season, hurt his left knee in Saturday's 2-1 win against Las Palmas and will be sidelined for two months.

"Of course any team would miss Messi, but Barcelona still have a world-class team without him," Bayer midfielder Christoph Kramer told Bundesliga.com.

Messi had not suffered a serious injury since the 2013-14 campaign and joins Brazilian midfielder Rafinha, who underwent knee surgery last week and is sidelined for six months, on the injury list.

Barca coach Luis Enrique believes his team can grow through the adversity, starting in Tuesday's Champions League Group E match.

"Whenever there is an injury it is sad and unpleasant," Enrique said on his club's official website. "If it's an injury to Messi, even more so...But we're a team and I'm convinced that we'll overcome it.

"This is a test and another point of motivation for our team.

"We now get to see what we are made of and I have no doubt that we will be ok.

"We are used to getting through tough times and we now have to improve the things that are under our control.

"Barca will not play in a different way without Leo."

Enrique is expected to field a 4-4-2 formation with in-form Luis Suarez playing alongside Neymar in attack.

Suarez scored both goals in the win over Las Palmas to lift Barca to second in La Liga, one point adrift of league leaders Villarreal and one clear of Real Madrid six games into the season.

Barca, who began their Champions League title defence with a 1-1 draw at Roma in their pool opener, have reason to be confident.

Since losing 3-0 to Bayern Munich in May 2013, Barca are unbeaten at home in the competition, winning their last six games at the Nou Camp.

Bayer, who thumped BATE Borisov in their group opener 4-1 at the BayArena, warmed up for the trip to Spain with a 3-0 triumph at Werder Bremen on Saturday.

The victory, their biggest in the domestic campaign this season, lifted Roger Schmidt's side to fifth in the Bundesliga standings, nine points adrift of league leaders Bayern Munich.

"We fully deserved the win," Kramer said. "It's particularly important that we kept a second successive clean sheet.

"That is something we can build on.

"A win like this is good for our confidence, but it'll be a very different game (in Barcelona)."

Barca have beaten Leverkusen in their previous five meetings.

The last time the sides met was in the 2011-12 campaign round of 16 with the Blaugrana thumping the German outfit 7-1.

"We have to go into the game with confidence and be fully focused," Kramer said. "In football anything is possible and we can definitely get something in Barcelona.

"We should enjoy the game and have fun."

Barca's Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and Brazilian right-back Douglas are both expected to return to action.

Bravo has recovered from a calf injury while Douglas has shaken off a hamstring problem.

Bayer midfielder Roberto Hilbert has missed the last three games with a knee problem and is doubtful.

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