Lionel Messi has been included in Barcelona’s squad for Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semifinal against Real Madrid, but Ernesto Valverde said he won’t take any risks with the forward’s fitness.
Messi, 31, injured his thigh during the weekend’s draw with Valencia and was unable to train on Monday. However, he completed Tuesday’s session and has been named among the 19 players called up for the first leg of the semifinal tie at Camp Nou.
Ousmane Dembele, who also trained after recovering from two weeks out with an ankle sprain, has not been named in the squad.
Valverde can only name 18 players in his final match day squad, though, so one player will have to miss out. The Barca coach will then have to decide whether Messi is fit enough to start the game.
“I’m not big on taking risks when there are a lot of games ahead of us,” said Valverde, whose side face Lyon in the Champions League later this month before a double header at the Santiago Bernabeu against Madrid.
“If La Liga ended tomorrow or if it was our last game, maybe I would take a risk… but if a player has an injury, whether it’s Messi or not, I prefer to be careful.”
Valverde said he would make a final decision on Messi after consulting with the player and the club’s medical team.
He refuted the claim, though, that Messi’s presence would have a major impact on the game. The Argentine is the top scorer in La Liga with 21 goals and has scored in his last nine appearances, but Barca beat Madrid 5-1 without him earlier this season.
“I don’t think it changes anything,” he added when asked how a hypothetical Messi absence could influence proceedings.
“In a semifinal between Barca and Madrid there’s no favourite. The tie is wide open, we have really good players. We have the player we believe is the best in world but they also have great players. If Messi’s ready he will play, if he’s not he won’t.”
Valverde also played down the significance of Barca’s 5-1 Classico win earlier this season, pointing out the huge difference between Madrid’s form then and now.
“They were in a completely different place then, which needs to be taken into consideration,” he said of Madrid, who have won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions.
“They are usually strong at Camp Nou, they play well here. In La Liga this season we were superior, we won, but they were in a delicate moment. We expect the best version of Madrid on Wednesday, as we have seen in recent weeks.”