Valverde says Messi 'fine' just being rested in Barca's draw with Juve



Posted Thursday, November 23, 2017 by ESPN

Valverde says Messi 'fine' just being rested in Barca's draw with Juve
Lionel Messi came off the bench in Barcelona's 0-0 draw with Juventus on Wednesday.

Ernesto Valverde explained he left Lionel Messi on the bench against Juventus to give him a breather as Barcelona booked their place in the Champions League knockout rounds on Wednesday.

Messi came on in the second half as Barca played out a goalless draw with Juve in Turin, securing their place in the round of 16 as group winners with one game to spare.

The decision to name Messi as a substitute had come as a surprise in the build-up to kickoff, given the Argentine had previously started each of Barca's 16 La Liga and Champions League games this season.

However, Valverde revealed that the aim was to rest the forward's legs, perhaps with Sunday's top-of-the-table clash against Valencia in the back of his mind.

"Messi's fine," the coach said when asked if there was any other reason for the call. "It was a difficult decision. He feels a great deal of responsibility within the club and the team.

"But he has played a lot of games and eventually he had to have a to rest. We thought it would be a tight game and then it would open up. The idea was he could come on in the second half, with the game more open. That was the decision."

Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri said it was strange to see Messi among the substitutes and admitted to being worried when the forward was brought on in the 55th minute.

"I've been facing him since 2010," Allegri said. "It's been 13 games and this is the first time that I have seen Messi sat on a bench.

"I worried a little when I saw he was coming on, but my lads did a good job keeping him quiet."

Paulo Dybala had the best chance to win the game, drawing a smart save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen late on, but Valverde felt Barca were the better side, without testing Gianluigi Buffon.

"We came here with the intention of winning the game," he said. "We played with a lot of personality because Juve press a lot here.

"There were lots of moments in the game which we dominated, but at the end, they could have won it with Dybala. Until then, we'd controlled the game and we're happy to finish top, which is what we wanted."

On Ter Stegen's save from Dybala, he added: "He's in a great moment of form, although the plan is for him to not have to make many saves!

"He didn't have a lot to do but he was there to make a decisive save. If they'd scored then, they'd have won the game."

For Valverde, though, the game in Italy was overshadowed by the sad news which had emerged from Spain in the morning, with confirmation that Sevilla coach Eduardo Berizzo is suffering from prostate cancer.

"I want to send a gesture of support to him," Valverde said. "He's a manager I have a good rapport with. I speak with and have spoken to him a lot. I send him all my strength. The whole club is behind him.

"It's bad news, but we know that we will all be supporting him. We all love football and we are passionate about it but at times we forget there are more important things."

Juventus will qualify for the last 16 unless they fail to beat Olympiakos in their final game and Sporting Lisbon beat Barcelona away.

Dybala reflected on his late chance and said on the club's website: "We had our chances tonight and it's a pity that shot in injury time didn't go in.

"We now focus on our next matches and we'll go to Olympiacos for the win."

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