MADRID - Lionel Messi will be "like a bull" when he returns after almost two months out with a thigh injury, his Barcelona team mate Cesc Fabregas predicted ahead of Sunday's La Liga match at home to Elche.
Messi flew back to the Catalan capital on Wednesday from his native Argentina, where he completed the final phase of his recovery, and will join Fabregas and the rest of Gerardo Martino's squad for training later on Thursday.
Martino will be wary of rushing the World Player of the Year back but is likely to give his compatriot at least some playing time against promoted Elche at the Nou Camp (1500 GMT) in Barca's first game after the winter break.
Messi may also feature in Wednesday's King's Cup last 16, first leg at home against Getafe in the hope he will be fully fit and able to play the whole of the La Liga match at title rivals Atletico Madrid on January 11.
"He definitely needed to rest physically because he had already suffered this (injury) and there was no other option than to stop playing," Fabregas said in an interview with Marca sports daily published on Thursday.
"He had four or five injuries in a row in a muscle that he uses a lot in accelerating from a standstill, which is what sets him apart," added the former Arsenal captain, who was a contemporary of Messi's at the Barca academy.
"He had to stop no matter what and he'll be like a bull when he is back."
Champions Barca are level on 46 points with Atletico Madrid after 17 of 38 matches and lead the Spanish capital's second club, who play at mid-table Malaga on Saturday (1500), on goal difference.
Real Madrid are five points further back in third and play at 15th-placed Celta Vigo on Monday (1800).