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BARCELONA, Spain — Ernesto Valverde has said he rested Lionel Messi for the good of the team after restoring the forward to Barcelona’s squad for Sunday’s Catalan derby against Girona.

Messi, 31, didn’t even travel to Sevilla in midweek as Barca were beaten 2-0 at the Sanchez Pizjuan in their Copa del Rey quarterfinal first leg.

The Argentine’s absence was even more surprising given he had only played the final 30 minutes of last week’s La Liga win over Leganes at Camp Nou.

“It was a decision based on the coach’s criteria, who is the person who knows his players best,” Valverde said in a news conference on Saturday when asked why he had not started top scorer Messi in either of the last two matches. “I have to make those decisions.

“No one else has the data I have on my players. I do what is best for the player, for the team and for the club.”

Along with Messi, who has scored 25 goals in 24 appearances this season, Malcom and Kevin Prince Boateng keep their places in the squad despite failing to gel against Sevilla in attack.

Malcom was taken off in the second half after missing an open goal. Barca are open to offers for the Brazilian between now and the end of January but while he remains at the club, Valverde challenged him to earn a regular spot in the team.

“We want him to have that continuity [of playing regularly] and to be a player that intimidates the opposition in the final third,” he said. “There are other players playing [in his position] but when he does play he has to try and win his place in the team so that it can’t be taken away from him.”

January signing Boateng, meanwhile, could make his league debut at Montilivi, although he’s likely to begin the game on the bench. The on-loan forward started against Sevilla despite having trained just once with his new teammates.

“I recognise it was a difficult situation for him as he’d just got here, but I thought it was the best decision I could make for the team,” Valverde said.

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde gives instructions to Lionel Messi
Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde gives instructions to Lionel Messi.

The Barca boss also defended his decision not to speak to Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who will join the club for €75 million in the summer, despite the fact Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola did speak to the Dutch international to try to sway his final decision.

“First of all, you can’t speak with a player who has a contract with another club,” Valverde said. “It’s not in my code [to do so].

“I won’t do it. If a player decides [to make that public], that’s up to him. I have nothing to say on it. The club have acted in a matter which I respect.”

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