Messi ready as Barca drop Dem­bele

Kuwait Times - - Sports -

BARCELONA: Ernesto Valverde has in­di­cated Li­onel Messi and Samuel Umtiti are both ready to re­turn for Barcelona against Real Betis on Sun­day but Ous­mane Dem­bele has been dropped.

Messi has been out since break­ing his arm against Sevilla on Oc­to­ber 20 while Umtiti has been nurs­ing a knee prob­lem and has not played since Septem­ber 26. Both are in­cluded in the squad to face Betis in La Liga this week­end but there was a sur­prise omis­sion for Dem­bele.

Valverde said the 21-year-old had been left out af­ter a “sport­ing as­sess­ment”. Messi’s re­turn would come as a ma­jor boost to Barca. Their cap­tain was in­cluded in the trav­el­ling squad to face In­ter Mi­lan on Wed­nes­day but was not deemed fit enough even for the bench.

Asked if he could play 90 min­utes against Betis, Valverde said: “We will see, but he’s lost his fear of fall­ing or strug­gling against an op­po­nent. “You have to get that out of your head, you can­not be think­ing if you are about to make a bad move­ment. I have seen him train­ing well and with con­fi­dence.”

Messi’s ab­sence should have been a golden op­por­tu­nity for Dem­bele but the winger’s form has been mixed in re­cent weeks, while Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho, Rafinha and Mal­com have all im­pressed.

“Ev­ery­one can in­ter­pret it how they want but this is a team,” Valverde said. “I’m look­ing for the best for the team and that’s it.” Barcelona paid around 105 mil­lion eu­ros to sign Dem­bele from Borus­sia Dort­mund last year but in­jury and in­con­sis­tency have plagued his ca­reer in Spain so far.

“Let’s hope he can make the most of all his tal­ent so the team ben­e­fits and also the club, which has made a great in­vest­ment in him,” Valverde added. Umtiti has been a key player for Barca but the de­fender’s place in the start­ing line-up this week­end is not guar­an­teed, given Clement Len­glet has done well along­side Ger­ard Pique dur­ing the team’s strong run.

“It is great news that Len­glet has shown his level,” Valverde said. “Far from be­ing a prob­lem, it is per­fect to have more pos­si­bil­i­ties, we will see to­mor­row who plays.” Barcelona sit three points clear at the top of La Liga and will hope for an­other vic­tory against 14th-placed Betis, be­fore the start of the in­ter­na­tional break.

Valverde also praised his full-back Jordi Alba, who earned a re­call to the Spain squad for the first time un­der new coach Luis En­rique. “We have seen Jordi im­prove ev­ery day,” Valverde said. “Ev­ery coach asks for some­thing and his start to the sea­son is spec­tac­u­lar. A call-up to the na­tional team is well-de­served.” Coutinho will not play against Betis. The mid­fielder is re­cov­er­ing from a ham­string strain. — AFP

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