As La Liga does its best to get back to some semblance of normality, one player missing a simple training session was enough to set the alarm bells ringing.
The problem is, there is nothing normal about the missing player. Lionel Messi was conspicuous by his absence as his Barcelona teammates went through their mid-season ‘pre-season’ routines, sending rumours flying about his welfare and sending the coronavirus conspiracy theorists into overdrive.
There is only a week remaining before Spain’s La Liga is expected to return to action following its shutdown due to the coronavirus, but Messi’s presence has been thrown into doubt after he trained separately from the group.
Barcelona quickly played down rumours over his welfare and said there was no reason to worry about Messi, claiming he simply underwent an alternative training program in the gym. That didn't stop some reports saying there could be more to it, but the chances he has COVID-19 are slim due to the practice of clubs' transparency over any players or staff who have tested positive.
Catalan channel TV3 said Messi has a minor thigh muscle problem that could keep him from being ready to play in Barcelona’s June 13 match at Mallorca, the team’s first since the league was halted nearly three months ago because of the pandemic.
Messi missed nearly two months at the beginning of the season after hurting a calf muscle in the first preseason training.
He is the league leading scorer with 19, five more than Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema. Messi also has the most assists, with 12.
Barcelona have a two-point lead over Real Madrid with 11 games remaining.
Madrid resume on June 14 against Eibar at Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium in the club’s training centre. Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is undergoing renovation work for the rest of the season.
The league’s first game will be the Seville derby between Sevilla and Real Betis.