Majestic Messi too important to be rested by Barca

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The Argentine hit a hat-trick in a routine win and made light of his recent fitness problems, as well as calls for him to be left out on Saturday

There was indignation among some Barcelona fans. When the team was announced for the game against Leganes at Camp Nou on Saturday, Lionel Messi was in the starting line-up. Why was he not being rested, many wondered.

And it was a valid question. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was left out of both of Argentina's recent friendlies with hamstring and adductor problems, while he started on the bench at Sevilla last weekend and still did not look 100 per cent in Barca's 4-1 win over Roma on Wednesday.

With the return match at the Stadio Olimpico ahead on Tuesday, the game at home to Leganes looked like an ideal oppportunity to give the forward a break, as Real Madrid have been doing with Cristiano Ronaldo to preserve the Portuguese for the big Champions League clashes.

But Barca boss Ernesto Valverde hinted on Friday that Messi would start. "He played the other day [against Roma], and against Sevilla he was rested for part of the game," the 54-year-old said.

"He has had a few problems and didn't play with the national team. He's a player who wants to be active because he's the best, but we have to talk after training."

It is common knowledge that Messi always wants to play. The Argentine is rarely left out of the team, although he understands at this stage of his career that he has to take time out on occasions, as he has once or twice this term.

So Messi started and, as is so often the way, he made the difference. He was far and away the game's standout player and his three goals ultimately gave Barca a win that keeps the Blaugrana on target for the title and also maintained their unbeaten record in La Liga this season.

First, the 30-year-old fired the league leaders ahead with a fantastic free-kick, becoming the first player to score six in a single Liga season since his former Barca team-mate Ronaldinho in 2006-07.

Barca Leganes score

In the process, he also became the first player to score from outside the box in six consecutive La Liga games since at least 2003-04. And he added a second just five minutes later with a fine finish from inside the area.

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During his 90 minutes on the pitch, Messi showed no ill effects from his recent problems and that is the best news as Barca chase silverware on three fronts – in La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.

Leganes pulled a goal back in the second half, but Messi added a late third for Barca as the Catalans secured a 3-1 victory to move provisionally 12 points clear of Atletico – in action away to Real Madrid in the derby on Sunday – with seven rounds remaining.

With Sevilla to come in the Copa del Rey final and passage to the semi-finals of the Champions League all but assured, the Argentine will be vital to Barca's hopes of winning a possible treble. But they cannot and will not rest him unless it is really necessary – he is far too important for that.

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