Lionel Messi set for Barcelona return

Lionel Messi returns for Barcelona’s trip to Girona after being rested for the midweek Copa del Rey loss to Sevilla, with coach Ernesto Valverde admitting the league takes priority.

Messi was omitted for Wednesday’s quarter-final first leg at Sevilla and without their talisman Barca slumped to a 2-0 defeat – putting in jeopardy hopes of a fifth successive cup triumph.

However, the 31-year-old forward who recently became the first player in history to reach 400 goals in LaLiga, has been included in a 19-man squad for Sunday’s Catalan derby, where Valverde’s table-toppers are chasing an eighth successive league win.

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has included Lionel Messi in his squad for Girona after resting him in midweek (Adam Davy/PA)

Valverde said of his decision to rest Messi: “It’s the coach’s decision, he knows the players the best and how they are.

“Nobody has the data about the players that I have, only us on the inside, and I have to take decisions based on that. I do what I think is best for my team, for the club and for the player.”

The Barca boss, whose side host Sevilla in the second leg of their cup tie on Wednesday, added: “People talk about rotations when you lose.

“Last year we made changes in two cup ties and people only mentioned it when we lost against Espanyol. We were doing something similar the previous year.

“The result went badly (against Sevilla) but we will try to bounce back.

“But LaLiga is a priority for us, I have no qualms about recognising that.”

Sunday’s match will see Barca make the 130-mile round trip to Girona’s Estadi Montilivi, rather than the 9,400-mile trek to Miami which, for a while, looked like it could be the case this weekend.

It was touted last year that this fixture would become the first LaLiga match to be staged in the United States, but the plans caused considerable controversy and in the end nothing came of it.

Valverde told a press conference, as reported by the Spanish press: “We were ready to play where they told us, it wasn’t important for us. I didn’t lose any sleep over it. We’ll see in the future.”

He added: “We know how hard it is for the rest to win in Montilivi, they are strong there and it will be a difficult game.”

As well as Messi, Barca welcome back the rested Sergio Busquets while new signing Kevin-Prince Boateng – who started against Sevilla – is also included. Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha and Samuel Umtiti are out injured.

Girona go into the clash on the back of a nine-match winless run in all competitions and having slipped to 12th in the league.

Their last two outings saw them suffer a last-minute defeat to Real Betis before going down 4-2 to Real Madrid in the cup, but coach Eusebio Sacristan is hoping for better against his former club Barca.

Girona
Girona scored twice at the Bernabeu in midweek, including taking the lead, but ended up losing 4-2 (Manu Fernandez/AP)

“We’re excited and we hope to have a good match and have options to win it,” Eusebio, who is without the injured Borja Garcia, said.

“To face Barca is a motivation for us and for the Girona fans.”

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Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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