Barcelona (AFP) – Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has admitted Lionel Messi played in a friendly against Mamelodi Sundowns on Wednesday due to a “contractual issue” even though the striker was left out of last weekend’s loss to Levante.
Levante’s shock 5-4 victory ended Barca’s hopes of completing their first ever unbeaten La Liga season in what was their 37th, and penultimate, match of the campaign.
The result placed added scrutiny on Valverde’s decision to rest Messi, who was not even included on the bench at the City of Valencia Stadium, as Barca chased an equaliser in the final 20 minutes.
But Messi did come on as a substitute in South Africa three days later as Barca took part in a friendly to contribute to celebrations marking 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela.
“In South Africa I played him for 15 minutes because of a contractual issue,” Valverde said on Saturday. “But he has helped us a lot and the idea now is to rest him.”
Messi has made 57 appearances for club and country this season and with Barcelona’s domestic double already confirmed, his next focus is Argentina and this summer’s World Cup.
Valverde indicated Messi is also likely to be spared Sunday’s final league game of the season at home to Real Sociedad.
“Messi has played a lot of big matches, even sometimes playing with discomfort,” Valverde said. “Now the plan is to rest him a little.”
Barca will be hoping to finish on a high against Real Sociedad as Andres Iniesta plays his final game for the club.
Iniesta joined Barcelona’s academy 22 years ago and Valverde accepts the Spaniard will be impossible to replace.
“We shouldn’t make the mistake of trying to find an Iniesta replica because we’re never going to find one,” Valverde said. “We will all have to make up for his absence together.”