Lionel Messi has returned from his injury lay-off with the “eyes of a killer”, Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino said.
The Four-time World Player of the Year trained with his teammates this week for the first time since tearing his left hamstring in November and scored a hat-trick in a practice game.
But Martino said he had left his star forward off the squad for Sunday’s La Liga game because he lacked playing time.
“He is physically strong and is showing the killer look he had before,” Martino said.
“If he continues like this and maintains the confidence then he will return to be the player that everyone remembers.”
The Argentine has had three training sessions in Barcelona since returning to the Catalan capital on Thursday from his recovery programme in Buenos Aires.
“He has been training with his team mates with the ball and building up his resistance,” Martino said.
“When he is ready then he will be put into the team.”
Messi has suffered a series of hamstring strains since the end of last season and Martino said the aim was to build him up sufficiently so that he would be strong for the rest of the season.
Barca suffered a spate of injuries in the run up to Christmas but the treatment room is now clearing, with goalkeeper Victor Valdes ready to return for Sunday’s game against Elche.
Valdes has not played for six weeks since injuring his right leg.
Xavi Hernandez also returns from injury, while Dani Alves is out with a fever.
“Our aim was to be well-placed in all three competitions at the end of December and that is what we have achieved,” Martino said.
“We have a squad which is not particularly big but is sufficient.
“The players have come back from their break looking in good shape.
“We now have four and half months to go and it is not just certain games which are important but all of them.”