BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde plans to leave Lionel Messi out of the starting line-up for the La Liga champions’ last game of the season against Real Sociedad as the Argentine needs rest after another punishing campaign.
The five-times world player of the year was included in the squad for the game at the Nou Camp, which is Barca captain Andres Iniesta’s final match for the club after 16 years at the heart of the team’s midfield.
Messi was left out of the squad for last week’s game at Levante, where Barca lost 5-4 to taste defeat for the first time after 37 league matches this season, although he played as a substitute in the friendly against Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa on Wednesday.
“He has played a lot of minutes and picked up the odd injury and played games while being injured,” Valverde told a news conference on Saturday.
“In the final stretch of the season we feel it’s the right time to rest him. The other day he played 15 minutes in South Africa for contractual reasons but tomorrow the plan is for him to rest.”
Messi has played 53 games for the Catalans this season in all competitions, topping the league’s scoring charts with 34 goals, and he will lead Argentina’s challenge at next month’s World Cup.