Valverde dismisses Messi fitness concerns

By Sports Desk February 10, 2019

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde dismissed suggestions Lionel Messi was not fit enough to start in Sunday's 0-0 draw at Athletic Bilbao.

LaLiga's leaders were held to a third draw in succession across all competitions, as they were frustrated at San Mames by Athletic.

Messi started Wednesday's 1-1 Copa del Rey semi-final first-leg draw against Real Madrid on the bench due to a thigh knock, but he came back into the line-up in Bilbao.

The Argentina star was Barca's liveliest player, yet he still appeared to be a little off colour compared his usual level of performance.

As such, Barca were kept at bay, as Philippe Coutinho did little to ease the burden on their talisman, but Valverde is adamant Messi was in condition to play.

Speaking to reporters, Valverde said: "Messi is fine and he has played at 100 per cent.

"He has had some difficulties, because we had them as a collective, but when he plays it is because is absolutely convinced everything is fine."

Valverde accepted that Arturo Vidal and Coutinho were some way short of their best, however.

"It's like everything else when you get a draw that you think that you should have won," Valverde said.

"It is a matter for the whole team and people always point to a player because he failed a pass or some situation. It is true that sometimes they can be more successful."

 

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    Sevilla must not allow Lionel Messi's superb record against them to distort their broader focus on Barcelona, Pablo Machin has warned.

    The Blaugrana's superstar captain boasts a personal best 33 goals in all competitions against Sevilla, who head into Saturday's crunch home fixture without a win in three LaLiga matches.

    Sevilla beat Barca 2-0 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final tie last month, only to crumble to a 6-1 defeat at Camp Nou on Messi's return to the starting XI.

    The 31-year-old Argentina great has netted 22 times in as many LaLiga appearances this term and shapes as the key figure in a match billed as pivotal in the champions' bid to defend their title.

    "He is the best in the world and we have to realise that," Sevilla head coach Machin said.

    "That's obvious, but their team is very strong as well. Barcelona scored five against Real Madrid [in October] without Messi.

    "He is important but the collective is even more so."

    Sevilla's impressive early season form has ebbed away in 2019 and left the Andalusian club 17 points adrift of top spot.

    They successfully ousted Lazio from the Europa League's last 16 with a 3-0 aggregate victory, but Jesus Navas picked up a muscle problem in the late stages of Wednesday's second leg.

    The 33-year-old is now in a race against time to be fit for Barca's visit despite being included in Machin's 18-man squad.

    "Other than the injured players we already had, Navas is the biggest doubt," he added.

    "We have to see how he progresses. These 24 hours are important to see how the player is, what sensations he has and from there make a decision."

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