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Explained: Why Lionel Messi is facing biggest break of his career as Inter Miami cling desperately to MLS play-off dream

As things stand, the Florida-based franchise have a five-point gap to bridge through five fixtures in order to make the post-season. They have savoured Leagues Cup glory this season, but suffered defeat in the U.S. Open Cup final and have seen talismanic captain Messi sit out four of their last five games – with only 37 minutes played by the iconic Argentine during that run.

Lionel Messi Inter Miami 2023GettyTHE BIGGER PICTUREInter Miami hope that Messi can return to full fitness and keep them in the hunt for a historic MLS Cup triumph. If they fall short in that quest, then their 2023 campaign will come to a close on October 21. Messi may then be out of action until late February 2024 – when the next MLS season gets underway.

DID YOU KNOW?He could figure for Argentina in 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay and Brazil in November, but will still have a 95-day wait from the last of those fixtures through to February 24 – a potential start date for MLS in 2024, according to Forbes. If he does not play in both games for the 2022 World Cup winners in the autumn, then a new record rest period for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will be set.

Lionel Messi Inter Miami 2023GettyWHAT HAPPENS NEXT?Only once has Messi gone more than 95 days without a game – taking in 99 match-less days with Barcelona at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. When it comes to enforced breaks through injury, he once sat out 87 days with a foot fracture while still in his teens. Inter Miami will be desperate to avoid making unwanted history for their superstar summer signing by forcing their way into the play-off places before the end of the regular season.