MLS

Martino 'won't take risks' but expects Messi to play this weekend

By Sports Desk May 16, 2024

Gerardo Martino is expecting Lionel Messi to play for Inter Miami at home to D.C. United this weekend, though he emphasised he would not take "any risks".

Messi was absent as Miami were held to a 0-0 draw away at Orlando City last time out with what Martino described as a "bit of a niggle".

The goalless draw, combined with FC Cincinnati's win over Atlanta United, means Miami's lead at the top of the Eastern Conference has been closed to just a point ahead of this weekend's fixtures.

As Miami look to get back to winning ways this weekend, Martino believes Messi will be able to return, though he will not rush the former Barcelona man back onto the field.

"The fact is that he felt some pain in his movements and, given that we're on a run of three games in the space of a week, we felt the most sensible thing to do was leave him out of today's game," Martino told reporters.

"The plan is that he'll play on Saturday, but it’s going to depend on how he progresses. We’re not going to take any risks, and on Thursday and Friday we'll assess his fitness."

D.C. were handed a first loss in four as they were thumped 4-1 by the New York Red Bulls in midweek, but head coach Troy Lesesne believes the defeat does not cancel out the previous solid form displayed by his side.

"For the last three weeks, we can feel good about our performance, and tonight doesn’t just erase all that," Lesesne said.

“We're building still. We can recognise tonight was a setback.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Inter Miami – Luis Suarez

With Messi absent against Orlando, Suarez couldn't make it four straight games with a goal as he drew a blank. With Messi potentially missing again on Saturday, Suarez will be keen to get back among the goals to help his team to victory.

D.C. United – Christian Benteke

Benteke was held scoreless against the Red Bulls despite taking six shots in the match. It was Benteke’s third MLS match this season with at least six shots with all other D.C. players having combined to do that once in league play in 2024 (Gabriel Pirani). The former Liverpool man certainly isn't afraid of pulling the trigger, though he will be hoping this time to find the back of the net with one or more of his efforts at goal.

MATCH PREDICTION – MIAMI WIN

D.C. are unbeaten in three all-time matches at Miami. D.C. are the only opponent that have visited Miami more than once in regular season play and never lost.

Miami’s five-game winning streak ended Wednesday with a 0-0 draw with Orlando. Miami had exactly seven shots for the second straight match, the club’s first time having consecutive MLS matches with single-digit shots since May-June 2023.

In Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Red Bulls, D.C. attempted 22 shots while allowing 11. The plus-11 shot differential was United’s highest in a loss by three or more goals since a 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew in April 2013 (+14).

In 2024, Miami have one win in their five MLS matches (two draws, two defeats) without Messi and seven victories in their nine games with him. The team’s goals per game average in MLS matches this season is 3.2 with Messi, and 1.2 without him.

Messi is clearly Miami's star man, then, and with him looking likely to feature this weekend, the hosts will be the favourites to return to winning ways at the top of the Eastern Conference.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Inter Miami - 50.8%

D.C United - 22.9%

Draw - 26.3%

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