Messi BENCHED for must-win Barcelona clash as injury rumors swirl
A troubling season for Lionel Messi has taken another twist after the Barcelona superstar was benched for the Spanish giants’ La Liga showdown with Real Betis on Saturday afternoon.
The 33-year-old’s campaign has been overshadowed by his revelation – before the season began – that he was keen to leave the Camp Nou for pastures new, and despite subsequently reaffirming his commitment to the club, he’s yet to rediscover his top form.
Messi has scored just once in six Spanish top flight games so far this season, failing to register a single assist, and will have to make do with a place on the bench for Barca’s meeting with Betis on Saturday evening.
Instead, new coach Ronald Koeman has opted for a forward line of youngsters Ansu Fati and Pedri, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Greizmann.
It’s the first time since September 2019 that Messi has been benched for a Barca game, and on that occasion, the decision backfired on the Catalan giants as they fell to a shock 2-0 defeat by Granada.
Koeman cannot afford a similar scoreline this time around, as the club’s malaise has continued after they let the title slip from their grasp under Quique Setien last term.
They’re without a win in their last four Spanish top flight matches – including the away defeat at Getafe and the 3-1 thumping at the hands of Real Madrid in the Clasico – and it’s imperative they defeat Betis to alleviate some of the mounting pressure on Koeman.Also on rt.com 'I don't agree': Barca boss Ronald Koeman disputes ex-manager Quique Setien's claim that Lionel Messi is 'difficult to manage'
It’s not year clear why Messi has been benched by the Dutch coach, with conflicting reports in the Spanish press suggesting that an injury or a tactical choice may have influenced the decision.
Local source TV3 revealed in their pre-match coverage that an ankle injury was responsible for Messi missing out on the starting XI, although when questioned before the match, assistant manager Alfred Schreuder offered a contrasting explanation for his absence.
“Messi’s a great player, but we have others and we need them to play,” he told Barca TV. “If someone isn’t completely fresh, it’s better for the whole group that he starts on the bench.”Also on rt.com Catalan concern: Lionel Messi's open-play goal drought suggests Barcelona's off-field problems are manifesting on the pitch
Should Messi be involved in the match off the bench, he will have an opportunity to extend his superb record against Betis.
The forward has had a hand in 29 goals in 20 outings against the club – 19 of which he’s scored himself – and has contributed 11 goals in his last four meetings with Los Verdiblancos.
Barca head into the match down in 13th in the Spanish table, having won two, drawn two and lost two of their six outings to date. Their miserable run leaves them on eight points, nine behind unlikely leaders Real Sociedad having played two games fewer.