Umtiti back in Barcelona training

Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti appears to be closing in on a return from a lengthy knee injury.

Samuel Umtiti’s bid to be fit for the Champions League last-16 trip to Lyon has gathered momentum with the defender returning to Barcelona training.

France international Umtiti completed part of Friday’s session as he steps up his recovery from a persistent knee problem, which has blighted his season.

The centre-back has not featured since November’s 1-1 draw with Atletico but recently declared his desire to be available for the Lyon tie.

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Umtiti joined Barca from the Ligue 1 side in 2016, where in five years as a player and made 170 first-team appearances.

Therefore, the 25-year is especially keen to return in time for the encounter at Groupama Stadium on February 19.

Clement Lenglet has been Ernesto Valverde’s preferred partner for Gerard Pique in Umtiti’s absence. 

The defender started in the 1-1 midweek draw against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey, and has been a regular in the side for the past few months.

The experienced Thomas Vermaelen filled the role at home to Valencia last weekend and could be considered an option to face Lyon if Umtiti does not recover in time.

It is not all good news on the injury front for the La Liga leaders, however, with midfielder Athur expected to miss around a month after sustaining a hamstring injury.

Barca will be hoping to return to winning ways this weekend when they face Valencia. The Spanish champions ended a run of eight straight games without a win in the 2-2 draw, but had to come from two goals behind to earn any points.

The Catalan side take a six-point advantage at the top into Sunday’s visit to Athletic Bilbao, who are only three points clear of the relegation zone.

Barcelona could be on for another historic treble this season, with Valverde’s men still fighting for trophies on three fronts.

However, if they are to do this, much could depend on the fitness of Lionel Messi.

The Argentine was used in Wednesday night’s draw with Real but did not seem fit and struggled to create his usual magic.

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