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07-Nov-2020, 10:22 pm

'Not fresh' Messi benched by Barcelona in La Liga for first time in over a year

Lionel Messi Barcelona 2020-21

Lionel Messi was named among Barcelona's substitutes for Saturday's La Liga contest against Real Betis, with it unclear if the Argentine was being rested or if he'd been dropped by Ronald Koeman.

The absence of the captain from Ronald Koeman's starting XI at Camp Nou was a peculiar one given Barca have failed to win their past four matches in Spain's top flight, although reports in Spain suggest he is not being risked due to a slight ankle problem.

Despite the suggestion he was merely being rested, Koeman's assistantAlfred Schreuder insisted there is no injury concern:"We're not talking about an injury for Messi, he's just not fresh.

"He has played a lot of games. Koeman has said: if you're not 100 per cent fresh, it's better you start on the bench."

Messi had previously started every game in La Liga and the Champions League under Koeman, who named Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati in his starting line-up.

Messi has regularly found himself in the spotlight since failing to engineer a move away from Barca in the past transfer window, particularly given he is yet to score from open play or provide an assist in LaLiga this term - though he has attempted more shots (28) than any other player in the competition.

On Friday, Koeman defended Messi against claims the Argentine was not working hard enough for the team following viral footage from Barca's midweek win over Dynamo Kiev, which showed him failing to press the opposition in second-half injury time.

In that game, Messi had more shots (six) and created more chances (four) than any other player in the match, but he also lost possession more frequently than anyone else (20 times) without once winning it back.

"I didn't seem him walking and I'm not interested in this because I don't see him walking," Koeman said. "If you want to start a controversy around this point, it's your problem.

"Messi is mentally good, enjoying this sport. He's a winner and sometimes you go through moments when the ball doesn't go in, but he looks really focused.

"I think Messi still has so many qualities. He's very important in our game."

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