Valverde explains Messi’s Clasico role

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 06: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Raphael Varane of Real Madrid CF during the Copa del Semi Final first leg match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Nou Camp on February 06, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde revealed that he decided to drop Lionel Messi to the bench due to the “discomfort” he was experiencing.

The Argentine forward has named on the bench for the first leg of Barcelona’s Copa del Rey semi-final tie against rivals Real Madrid on Wednesday night at Camp Nou due to a thigh injury.

In Messi’s absence, Barcelona struggled to get past the Real defence after going a goal down early on through Lucas Vazquez.

Valverde introduced Messi into the game on the 63rd-minute after Malcom had equalised for Barcelona.

But the 31-year-old struggled to make an impact with the Catalan giants being forced to settle for a 1-1 draw in the first leg.

“Leo is fine,” said Valverde, according to Marca. “But we prefer not to take risks in this time [of the season].

“He had some discomfort and we decided it was for the best.”

On the other hand, Malcom unexpectedly proved to be the star man for Barcelona in his Clasico debut after struggling for regular game time this season.

The Brazilian winger made the most of the rare starting opportunity Valverde gave him and deservedly capped off a fine performance by scoring the equaliser.

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“It was a difficult test because it’s a very special match,” said Valverde. “Malcom was connecting with his teammates very well.”

The return leg between Barcelona and Real Madrid will take place on February 27 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

To progress to the final, Barcelona will need to score at least one goal in order to retain their hopes of a fifth straight Copa del Rey title.

“We have to score, it’s simple,” added Valverde.

“The tie is open.”

Next up for Barcelona is a trip to the San Mames to take on Athletic Bilbao in La Liga on Saturday as they bid to maintain their six-point lead at the top of the standings.

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