Messi return to Argentina fold was inevitable, says Barcelona boss Valverde

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Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde says it was inevitable Lionel Messi would return to the Argentina squad.

Lionel Messi's return to the Argentina squad after a nine-month absence did not come as a surprise to Ernesto Valverde.

Messi has not played for Argentina since the World Cup but is in Lionel Scaloni's squad for upcoming friendly matches against Venezuela and Morocco.

Barcelona's captain will therefore be available to play for his country in the Copa America at the end of the domestic season, Argentina having lost successive finals to Chile in the competition.

Valverde's side are chasing a potential treble with a seven-point lead from Atletico Madrid in La Liga, a place in the final of the Copa del Rey against Valencia secured and a last-16 second leg against Lyon to come in the Champions League.

But the Barca boss does not think Messi returning to international duty will have an impact on the rest of the campaign.

"It's a question that concerns the Argentine coach," he told a news conference ahead of Saturday's home game against struggling Rayo Vallecano.

"Messi's call, he escapes from my field. That Leo was going to return, we all knew, sooner or later. We see it naturally and I do not care at all, it's no change from other years."

Barcelona have won their last 12 La Liga games against Rayo, who are 19th in the table, but Valverde indicated he will not use the game to rest players ahead of Wednesday's second leg against Lyon.

Ernesto Valverde Barcelona 2018-19

"Rayo are in a difficult situation and teams near the bottom can pick up points unexpectedly at the end of the season," Valverde, who left Kevin-Prince Boateng out of his squad, added.

"What is clear is that tomorrow's game is not going to be suspended, we are going to play it, the three points tomorrow are important.

"I think underestimating Rayo is the first step in not winning, there are certain matches that take the spotlight and there are others that have less and these are the ones that give you or take away the titles. Tomorrow is one of these.

"I have to make a list, I've got five players who can play in attack, someone has to stay out and this time it's been Boateng."

Madrid have slipped 12 points behind Barca after last weekend's Clasico defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu, which led to players including Dani Carvajal conceding their part in the title race is over.

But Valverde is adamant Madrid's chances of reclaiming the league have not been ended, while he opted not to gloat over Barca's rivals suffering a shock Champions League exit at the hands of Ajax this week.

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"I do not discard them out of respect and mathematics," he continued. "36 points remain, it's true that we lead them by 12, but what we think is that our rivals, even those with a margin, can fight for the title.

"I do not rule out any team for the league, nobody does it, it's true that Atletico are the closest rival, our intention is to keep our distance and that means we're winning the matches.

"We see the crisis of Madrid from a distance and with respect, football is the way it is, football can change things in a week. We have nothing to say, we know how difficult it is to win the Champions League and it helps us to be more attentive. Nobody is safe."

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