Messi, Busquets to return to starting lineup for Inter Miami vs. Nashville Wednesday

Good news for fans spending big bucks for tickets to the Inter Miami home game Wednesday against Nashville SC: Coach Tata Martino said he expects Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets to return to the starting lineup.

The former FC Barcelona stars came off the bench at the 60-minute mark in Saturday’s 2-0 road win against the New York Red Bulls, and Messi scored a memorable goal to the delight of the sellout crowd. Messi and Busquets had played start to finish the previous six games and coaches persuaded them to take a break.

“I think the game he needed to rest, the key one, was the last one in New York, same with Busquets,” Martino said Tuesday morning before training. “So, barring any unforeseen issues, they should start Wednesday.”

Martino added that he does not remember any time in his career that he watched a replay of a pass more than 10 times, as he did after Messi’s goal Saturday. It wasn’t the actual shot that stupefied him, it was the sublime angled pass Messi made to Benjamin Cremaschi through a sea of defenders, which the Key Biscayne teen then sent back to an unmarked Messi for the easy tap-in.

“As a player I always enjoyed making assists and I still don’t understand how he saw Cremaschi,” Martino said.

Messi has scored 11 goals through his nine games, and fans surely expect another on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. kickoff, Apple TV).

Miami and Nashville are quite familiar with each other, as they met 10 days ago in the thrilling Leagues Cup final, which Miami won after an 11-round penalty kick shootout. Messi scored on a bending shot from outside the penalty box in that game and converted his penalty kick. Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender was the other hero of the night, scoring on his PK and then making the decisive save.

Miami has won all nine games since Messi’s arrival — six in regulation and three in penalty kick shootouts. The win Saturday against the Red Bulls was the first MLS league win for Messi, Busquets and the four other summer newcomers who had played only in cup games.

Inter Miami inched up from last place to 14th place in the Eastern Conference standings with the victory. Miami has 21 points and is 11 points shy of the playoff line with 11 games remaining in the regular season.

Nashville did not fare as well as Miami in its return to MLS action over the weekend, suffering a 4-0 blowout loss to Atlanta United. Nashville had just one shot on target in that game.

Miami is eager to earn nine points in the three games this week, as the team could be missing as many as 10 or 11 players for the Sept. 9 home game against Kansas City.

Messi is expected to leave the squad for national team duty after the road game against Los Angeles FC on Sunday. Argentina plays Ecuador on Sept. 7th and Bolívia on Sept. 12 in World Cup qualifiers.

Other Miami players likely to be with their national teams during the upcoming FIFA window are DeAndre Yedlin (United States), Kamal Miller (Canada), Serhiy Kryvtsov (Ukraine), Josef Martinez (Venezuela), David Ruiz (Honduras), Edison Azcona (Dominican Republic), and Diego Gomez (Paraguay). Callender and Cremaschi may be called into USA camp and Leo Campana might get invited to play for Ecuador.

Martino said former team captain Gregore, who had foot surgery early in the season, recently suffered a setback and might not be ready to return until October.