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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    Ernesto Valverde said he has no preference over where and when Barcelona are confirmed as LaLiga champions.

    A 2-0 win at Deportivo Alaves moved Barca within three points of defending their title, but they will be crowned on Wednesday should nearest rivals Atletico Madrid lose at home to Valencia.

    If Atleti make Barca wait, the Catalan giants can make certain of their eighth title in the last 11 seasons at home to Levante on Saturday, before next week's Champions League semi-final clash with Liverpool.

    Valverde rested captain Lionel Messi against Alaves, with second-half goals from Carles Alena and Luis Suarez seeing his side through to a comfortable victory at Mendizorroza.

    Barca would be able to celebrate clinching the title in front of their own fans should Atletico postpone what is increasingly inevitable, but Valverde has no preference over when his second successive title is confirmed.

    "The truth is that there are three final points [to make mathematically sure], but they are very important," Valverde told reporters. "Things have to be concretised and we have been chasing them for a long time.

    "Atletico are a competitor who show every day how they do it. We'll see. I do not see Atletico relaxing. We count on that we will need the three points.

    "What we want is to win because winning LaLiga is difficult and we will see when it can be. It leaves us on the verge of getting it, three points with four games to play.

    "Whatever it has to be, it will be. If, when we start the season, they ask me, any coach would have answered any time."

    Barca found it hard to break Alaves down initially, but after Alena's opener was created by Sergi Roberto a VAR-assisted penalty allowed Suarez to double their lead.

    "In the end they defended well, defended together," Valverde added. "We had a double chance at the beginning but we did not take advantage and it was a matter of patience. With the 0-1 they have already had to open up."

    Valverde brought on Messi at 2-0 and he denied the move was motivated by giving Messi the chance to score more goals in a bid for another individual award.

    "The idea was that he'd play because the result wasn't clear when it was goalless at half-time," he said. "The suggestion that it was about the Golden Shoe... well, we focus on winning.

    "It was time for him to get some rest today and to come out in the second half. It's good for players to stay involved and active.

    "You can't put them away in a case and then just bring them out for one match."

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