What will Barcelona look like without Lionel Messi? Ernesto Valverde is getting an early glimpse into that scary reality this season as the club’s superstar faces a concerning battle for fitness.For the first time since 2009, Messi began the season watching on from the sidelines with the 32-year-old ruled out of the Blaugrana’s first four games with a foot injury. Never before has he been absent for so long at the outset of a season. In the absence of their key attacker, Barca started their campaign with a shock 1-0 loss to Athletic Club and dropped further points in La Liga a fortnight later in a 2-2 draw with Osasuna. Article continues below Editors’ Picks Ox-rated! Dream night in Genk for Liverpool ace after injury nightmare Messi a man for all Champions League seasons – but will this really be Barcelona’s? Are Chelsea this season’s Ajax? Super-subs Batshuayi & Pulisic show Blues can dare to dream Time for another transfer? Giroud’s Chelsea spell set to end like his Arsenal career As the Catalans looked to make amends for their disastrous Champions League exit last season, Valverde brought Messi back as a substitute in their group opener against Borussia Dortmund, which ultimately ended goalless. Another cameo against Granada in the league would follow before Messi was handed his first start of the season against Villarreal. After setting up Antoine Griezmann for the opening goal after just six minutes, Messi required treatment off the pitch for a thigh complaint in the 28th minute and, after struggling through the remainder of the first half, was replaced at the interval by Ousmane Dembele. Following the match, Valverde tried to talk down his star’s injury woes but his attempt at hyperbole was closer to reality than he would have liked. “When something happens to Messi, it seems that the world comes to a halt,” Valverde said post-match.”But it looks like it’s only some minor pain in his adductor. We replaced him as a precaution. We don’t want to take any risks.” While the world might not quite stop, the Catalans have certainly struggled for consistency in Messi’s absence and laboured to a 2-0 win over Getafe on Saturday without him. Ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash against Inter, which is followed by a match against sixth-placed Sevilla four days later, Barcelona face the prospect of two more key games without their star man. Though Messi has been named in Valverde’s latest squad, the Barca coach concedes the game may come too soon. “First we have training. What I reiterate is that we will not run any risk and we have to wait for training,” Valverde told reporters on Tuesday.”Leo did half the training on Monday, we’ll see if he can finish [Tuesday’s session]. I don’t know if we can count on them in the end.”While question marks remain over Messi’s return date, one thing that is certain is the fact his body will require some careful management from now on. No longer in his twenties, nor boasting the immaculate physique of Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona must look after Messi in the wake of these recent injuries.The last time the Argentine missed over a month of football was back in 2015 and now, four years older, these latest fitness concerns cannot be taken lightly. “He’s 32 years old and has been playing at the highest level for a while without any rest, so it’s normal to see him starting to feel some pain at times,” Catalan legend Rivaldo wrote in his column for Betfair . “The club needs to let him fully recover so that he doesn’t suffer a recurrence of his injuries right after returning to the team. It doesn’t matter if he misses two, three weeks or a month. When I was in my early thirties, I thought I would never get injured, or feel pain, but it wasn’t the truth and those kinds of problems started to come.”Being 32 is not the same as being 25, so you need to manage your fitness better.”I don’t see this as a sign of decline in Messi, though, as he will come back and have a few more years at the highest level.” While Barcelona’s captain will be desperate to turn the page on his current injury crisis and lead his side back to La Liga’s summit, Messi’s current run of injuries isn’t something the club can afford to be gambling on anytime soon.