Barcelona: Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has said victory in the season's first El Clasico against Real Madrid on Saturday is more important than the personal glory of becoming La Liga's all-time leading goalscorer.
Messi is just one short of Telmo Zarra's 251-goal record which has stood since 1955 and could enter the record books once more on rival territory as Barca look to consolidate their four-point lead over Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Lionel Messi. Pic/ AFP
However, the Argentine joined coach Luis Enrique in playing down the importance of the match in the title race with just eight games of the season played.
"It is a Clasico and it is always nice to play in it, but it won't decide anything. "There is still a long way to go, but we will play to win as always. "The record is less important. The important thing is that we play well and win."
Messi was substituted along with Neymar and Andres Iniesta during the second-half of Barca's 3-1 win over Ajax on Tuesday as coach Luis Enrique looked ahead to his first visit to the Bernabeu as Barca boss. Controversy ensued when Messi appeared to dismiss Enrique's pleas to come off during Saturday's 3-0 win over Eibar, but Messi insisted it is always Enrique who has the final say on substitutions.
"I have heard what has been said, but he is the coach and he can take me off when he has to. There is no problem." Messi and Neymar have now combined for 19 of their side's 28 goals this season and the Barca frontline will have even more star power at the Bernabeu as Luis Suarez is free to make his debut for the club having served his four-month ban for biting at the World Cup. "We are desperately awaiting the return of Luis because he will give us a lot of strength as a team," added Messi. "He is a great striker who will score a lot of goals. I am happy for him because he has spent a lot of time without playing."
After first-half goals from Neymar and Messi, Ajax briefly threatened a fightback when Anwar El Ghazi reduced the arrears two minutes from time after the South American duo and Iniesta had been withdrawn. Sandro Ramirez eased Barca nerves, though, when he fired home the hosts' third goal in stoppage time and Enrique defended his decision to replace his star men with over 20 minutes remaining.
"Football is a continuos risk and I didn't risk too much," said Enrique. "I did it my way, as I believe I had to do it. Sometimes you win and sometimes not. I would do it again and I believe completely in the players that went on. "It is the team on the pitch that has to find the solutions."