In Spain’s top flight, Barca struggled to win their last four matches and their talismanic captain was left out of the XI to face Real Betis.
Among Barcelona’s substitutes for Saturday’s La Liga contest against Real Betis, Lionel Messi was called, with the Argentine considered ‘not new’ enough to start the fixture.
The absence of the captain from Ronald Koeman’s starting XI at Camp Nou was a curious one given that Barca struggled to win their last four games in the top flight of Spain, with rumors in Spain initially stating that because of a minor ankle problem he was not at risk.
However, Koeman’s assistant Alfred Schreuder insisted that there is no question about injury and that the 33-year-old is not at full fitness: “We’re not concerned about injury [for Messi], he’s not just new.”
“He’s played a lot of games. Koeman said that if you’re not 100% new, you’re best off starting on the bench.”
Under Koeman, who called Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati in his starting line-up, Messi had previously started each game in La Liga and the Champions League.
Since failing to engineer a move away from Barca in the past transfer window, the Argentine legend has frequently found himself in the spotlight, particularly since he is still to score from open play or provide an assist in this term in La Liga.
On Friday, after viral footage of Barca’s midweek victory over Dynamo Kiev, Koeman defended Messi against allegations that he was not working hard enough for the squad, which showed him struggling to push the opposition in second-half injury time.
Messi had more shots in that game (six) and created more opportunities (four) than any other player in the game, but he also lost control more often (20 times) than anyone else without winning it back once.
Koeman said, “I didn’t seem to be [rolling] and I’m not interested in this because I can’t see him walking.” It’s your issue if you want to start a dispute around this point.
Messi is mentally strong and he loves the sport. He’s a winner, and even when the ball doesn’t go in, you go through periods, but he looks very centered.
“I believe that Messi still has so many qualities. In our game, he’s very important.”
The 1-1 draw last weekend at 10-man Deportivo Alaves saw Barca tie their lowest points count over six LaLiga matches.