Football - Injury-free 2014 top of Messi's wish list

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is hoping for an injury free 2014 as his recovery from a thigh injury nears completion, the World Player of the Year said on Monday.

Messi has been in his native Argentina recuperating from a thigh strain sustained on Nov. 10, the latest in a series of muscle injuries that plagued him throughout 2013.

Barca stumbled during his most recent absence, losing consecutive games to Ajax Amsterdam in the Champions League and Athletic Bilbao in La Liga, and are keen to have him back in the side as soon as possible after the end of the winter break.

"After celebrating the end of the year with my family and friends, I will fly to Barcelona on Wednesday and after my return we will see when I am ready to play again," Messi said on Barca's website (www.fcbarcelona.es).

"The objective now is to get myself back to full fitness and the idea is to have a few practice sessions with my team mates before returning to action," he added.

Coach Gerardo Martino's squad have New Year's Day free and return to training with a double session on Thursday.

Barca host Elche in La Liga on Sunday before playing at home to Getafe in their King's Cup last 16, first leg the following Wednesday.

Messi may get some playing time in those two matches but Martino will be wary of rushing him back and, if possible, will want him at peak fitness for the La Liga clash at Atletico Madrid on Jan. 11.

Barca and Atletico are level on 46 points at the top after 17 matches, with Real Madrid five points behind in third.

Barca defender Gerard Pique left no doubt on Monday about Messi's importance to the Spanish champions.

"Leo is the best in the world," he told a news conference previewing Catalonia's friendly against Cape Verde later on Monday.

"If he is playing or not playing of course it has an impact," added the Spain international, who was a contemporary of Messi's at Barca's academy.

"The team has been able to survive without him these past few weeks but he is the best and he gives us a huge amount.

"To win things you need everyone fit and all the more so when it is the best player in the world."