It takes a certain amount of guts to bench Lionel Messi for a Champions League game, that’s for sure.
That was the decision Ernesto Valverde took last night as Barcelona limped their way to the knockout stages with an indifferent performance away to Juventus.
Catalan publication Sport offered an explanation for Messi’s absence from the starting XI, citing Valverde’s reluctance to push his star man too hard ahead of the convoluted Christmas schedule.
Messi was believed to have taken the decision better than expected and is beginning to accept that – at the age of 30 – he needs to be given a breather every now and then.
Worries over Messi’s fitness are more than justified, too, with the Argentine being photographed clutching his thigh in recent games and warm-ups.
Nevertheless, Valverde couldn’t resist deploying Messi at the Juventus stadium in the end with the five time Ballon d’Or winner entering the fray for the final 34 minutes.
The 30-year-old wasn’t able to greatly impact the game as his compatriot Paulo Dybala came closest by forcing Marc-Andre ter Stegen into a brilliant save – worthy of congratulations from Gianluigi Buffon – in stoppage time.
With the scores level and a result that suited both teams, there was brilliant atmosphere after the game with the likes of Messi and Andres Iniesta applauded by both sets of fans.
Furthermore, Messi couldn’t resist chatting with his international teammates and fellow prolific strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Dybala after the game.
The trio were snapped chatting together in the tunnel, clad in each other’s shirts and it instantly went viral – take a look below:
Moreover, it seems spirits were high enough for Higuain to make a cheeky jibe at Messi being benched for a seemingly high-profile fixture.
Footage emerged of the pair exchanging jokes with Mundo Deportivo reporting that Higuain remarked: “The vest fits you well, the vest of a substitute.”
Messi produced ‘timid laughter’ in response with Dybala and Pepe Costa tickled by the comment.
As snugly as the substitute’s vest might fit, though, it’s unlikely that Messi will be making himself comfortable in the dug-out very often this season.
The 30-year-old is doing his best to make the Ballon d’Or a close contest with a storming start to the season with 15 goals and four assists already.
Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t exactly been poor but Messi has his advisory exactly where he wants him right now and that’s 10 points below in the La Liga table.
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