Video: Valverde says Lionel Messi faces late fitness test ahead of trip to Bilbao

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Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde says Lionel Messi will have a late fitness test ahead of Sunday’s trip to Athletic Bilbao.

Barcelona trained on Saturday ahead of their trip to the San Mames to face Athletic.

Messi trained with the team and is expected to travel with the rest of the squad but it is not confirmed whether he will play in the starting.

“We didn’t want to take risks during the Copa del Rey match and tomorrow we face a similar situation,” said Valverde.










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El Clasico team news: Lionel Messi on the bench for Barcelona's Copa del Rey clash with Real Madrid

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Messi looked short of his best against Athletic Bilbao

Lionel Messi has been named on the bench for Barcelona for their Copa del Rey semi-final against Real Madrid on Tuesday.

Amid speculation over the Argentine’s fitness, coach Ernesto Valverde insisted ahead of the encounter that he would not take any risks with his captain.

Summer signing Malcom comes in to replace Messi on the right wing while Nelson Semedo starts ahead of Sergi Roberto at right-back.

Messi suffered from some discomfort in his thigh during Barcelona’s draw with Valencia on Sunday but returned to training on Tuesday ahead of the second El Clasico of the season at Camp Nou.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner however had missed training on Monday.

Valverde had said in a press conference: “I have not seen him yet and I don’t have an answer.

“There is a training session and we will see how he is, whether he can do it and whether he is in the right condition.

“Then we will decide. If he is fit, he will play and if he is not, he will not play.”

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Lionel Messi returns for Barcelona's clash with Girona after Copa del Rey defeat to Sevilla

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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 La Liga, 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.

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 La Liga 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 La Liga 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.

“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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