Messi to sit out Iniesta Barcelona send off, Valverde confirms

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Mike Hewitt
The manager has decided against playing the superstar in the club's La Liga finale, arguing he needs rest after a long campaign

Ernesto Valverde has revealed he plans to leave Lionel Messi out of the Barcelona team for the club's final game of the season, which doubles as Andres Iniesta's send off.

Messi has played in 53 games in all competitions this season across La Liga, the Copa del Rey, Supercopa and Champions League

Barca played a friendly against Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa in midweek, in which Messi made a brief appearance, despite being rested for the dramatic 5-4 defeat to Levante last weekend, which saw the club's hope at a historic undefeated league season go by the wayside.

Valverde plans to leave the star out of Sunday's match against Real Sociedad as well, meaning he will not now play until at least May 29, when Argentina take on Haiti in a World Cup warm-up. And it also means he will miss out on his longtime team-mate Iniesta's final game with the club

"He's played a lot of minutes this season and that includes playing with injuries. Now is the moment for him to rest a little," Valverde explained of Messi at a news conference.

"He played for 15 minutes in South Africa for contractual reasons. The idea is that he rests."

Meanwhile on the subject of Iniesta, Valverde admits there is no single player who can replace him in the Barcelona first team as the 34-year-old prepares to suit up for the club for the last time.

The Barca captain has won 32 major club trophies during his illustrious senior career, including the domestic double in 2017-18, and Valverde concedes it will require a certain reorganisation of the team to compensate for his absence.

"Hopefully, we'll send Andres off with a victory," he said. "I don't think we'll get anybody with the same characteristics as Andres. We have to be realistic and stay faithful to our style.

"There are similar players to him, like Denis Suarez, [Carles] Alena, or like [Philippe] Coutinho, who maybe attacks a little more. But we have to find a solution to keep the team playing smoothly and we know that we'll need to find other solutions to replace him.

"It's been an honour to coach him this season and to enjoy him as a player."

With Iniesta departing and Xavi having left three years ago, speculation has mounted about the future of Sergio Busquets, the third member of a midfield trio that helped Barca and Spain dominate football's landscape.

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Valverde, though, sees no reason to fear the 29-year-old's departure, given he has a contract until 2021.

"Everyone knows how important Sergio Busquets is and the balance he gives us," he said. "I hope Sergio continues with us. He's under contract and he's a very important player for the team."

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