Rested Messi ready for Liverpool showdown
For the biggest moments, there is always Lionel Messi.
The 31-year-old Argentine has been the key to Barcelona’s success ever since he made his debut, but more and more this season, he has been rested.
Tomorrow won’t be one of those days because that will be the day when Barcelona face Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals.
“Messi is the centrepiece of our success,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “Obviously, since he arrived, the club has won numerous titles. If there’s a player above everyone else, it’s him. He sets our style, and his level of competitiveness improves everyone.”
A few days ago, Messi won the Spanish league trophy for the 10th time in his 15 seasons with the Catalan club. He scored the decisive goal — yet another one — that allowed the team to clinch its eighth league title in 11 seasons.
He has also helped the team advance to a fifth straight Copa del Rey final and reach the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in four seasons.
Barcelona know they will need the best of Messi when they play Liverpool at the Camp Nou, so the team has worked as hard as ever to manage his playing time and make sure he will be in top form at the Camp Nou.
Valverde has been using Messi only at key moments in recent games, saving him for the decisive stages of the Champions League — which the club has not won since 2015. Barcelona were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the European competition the last three seasons.
Valverde has often left Messi on the bench in recent Spanish league matches, sending him on if the team was struggling. That was the case last weekend in a match against Levante, which Barcelona needed to win to secure the league title. Messi came off the bench at half-time and scored the winning goal in the 62nd minute.
Messi also didn’t start in the previous league match, against Alaves, entering the game with about 30 minutes left to help the team hold on to a 2-0 win.
The Argentina forward historically got little rest time in his career with Barcelona, being one of the players with the most minutes nearly every season. He hasn’t missed a lot of time because of injuries, with his latest long-term absence coming last year when he was sidelined for about three weeks because of a broken forearm.
Valverde started managing Messi’s playing time more aggressively this season as the team reached the final stretch.