Barcelona fans - and football supporters in general - were left gobsmacked an hour before their team’s Champions League clash against Juventus this evening when it was announced that Lionel Messi had failed to make the starting line-up against Juventus.
Barça’s number 10 was named on the substitutes’ bench, even though he wasn’t injured, and nobody could quite understand why.
Although the Catalan giants currently sit top of Group D, with 10 points secured from their first four matches, there’s still a slim chance that they could miss out on qualification for the knockout rounds if results don’t go their way over the coming weeks.
It seemed like a bizarre risk for Ernesto Valverde to take.
Paulinho started upfront in Messi’s absence, with Luis Suarez and Gerard Deulofeu also in attack.
Sport reveal why Messi has been benched
So, what is the reason behind Valverde’s controversial decision?
The rumour mill has been working overtime over the past hour, with some fans even fearing that Valverde and Messi may have fallen out.
However, Catalan publication Sport have revealed why Messi started the match on the bench.
Apparently, Valverde has taken Barcelona’s busy schedule between now and Christmas into consideration and doesn’t want to push the five-time Ballon d’Or winner too hard.
Barça face second-place Valencia at the Mestalla on Sunday evening and Valverde, it seems, would rather keep his star man fresh for that fixture.
Victory over Los Che at the weekend and Barcelona, who currently have a 10-point lead over third-place Real Madrid, will already feel like they have one hand on the La Liga title.
How Messi will have reacted to the decision
But how has Messi reacted to the decision?
It’s a well-known fact that, in the past, most Barcelona managers have been too scared to drop Messi because of his desire to play in every minute of every match.
Sport, however, add that Messi has finally accepted that he needs to take a breather every now and then in order to keep him fresh for the final months of the season.
This was proved by the fact he missed Argentina’s friendly against Nigeria last week.
And with the 2018 World Cup finals taking place next summer, Messi will be keen to ensure that he arrives in Russia in the best possible physical condition.
AS, meanwhile, understand that Messi agreed to Valverde's decision days ago.
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