Valverde explains Lionel Messi’s role in the El Classico

Valverde claims Messi wasn’t fully fit in the El Classico

Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw at home by archrivals Real Madrid in the first leg of the Copa del Rey, with the Catalan giants missing the presence of Lionel Messi in the starting eleven.

Messi came off the bench in the second half and manager Ernesto Valverde explained his exclusion of the superstar claiming that he wasn’t fully fit.

Lucas Vasquez put the Los Blancos in the driver’s seat before Malcom equalised in the second half to ensure that both the teams had plenty to play for in the second leg.

“The decisions you make are based on what you think is better for the team and the player,” he said.

“He had discomfort. Today he was better but we thought it was best he enter in the second half.

“He could be decisive because we know the danger he creates every time he gets the ball.”

La Liga leaders Barcelona make the trip to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday and Valverde is hopeful Messi may be ready to start.

He said: “I don’t know. If he’s okay, he’ll play. I hope it’s like that.”

Asked if Madrid were the favourites ahead of the second leg on February 27, Valverde said he knew the challenge awaiting his team.

“We are forced to score in the Bernabeu, that is evident,” he said.

“But there is still a lot left [before] that game. We have to be calm and we will have time to focus.”

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