Barcelona vs Sporting Clube de Portugal - Lionel Messi could get a night off against Sporting

Posted Tuesday, December 05, 2017 by PA

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said he could shuffle his pack for the Champions League visit of Sporting Lisbon but refused to reveal whether Lionel Messi will be among those rested.

Barca are already assured of finishing first in Group D but Sporting still have a chance of pipping Juventus to second spot, lying one point behind the Italian side.

With a testing LaLiga trip to Villarreal coming up on Sunday - where Barca will look to get back to winning ways after successive draws - Valverde may be loathe to risk any of his star players on Tuesday, but he also says they have a duty to the competition and fans to consider.

He told a press conference: "It's game where we're not playing for anything from a qualification point of view and we're happy for that, but we know that our opponents will be coming to win and we like the Champions League and we have an obligation to our public.

"We could make changes, but we know the importance of the game."

Giving star man Messi - who is three away from 100 Champions League goals - a night off ahead of a tricky end to 2017, which includes a trip to Real Madrid on December 23, seems the most logical course of action but Valverde was keeping his cards close to his chest.

He said: "It's clear that (Sporting boss) Jorge Jesus respects Messi a lot for what he represents and if he doesn't play it will be better for them. We'll see what happens.

"The most important thing is Messi is well and he wins many things with us. What he does with his national team is nothing to do with us. I haven't spoken with the AFA (Argentinian Football Association) about resting him."

Sporting need to beat Barca and also hope Juve slip up at last-placed Olympiacos as, due to an inferior head-to-head record, finishing level on eight points with the Bianconeri would be no good to them.

The Portuguese side led in both matches against Juve but could only claim one point from a possible six, and Valverde admits that could end up proving costly.

He said: "It's a very short league and you cannot make any mistakes.

"It's a question of making the right decisions in key moments. In Turin Sporting had a chance, but Juventus recovered in both games. The big teams don't let you off.

"I don't know what will happen tomorrow but I suppose they will come out more and be more attacking."

Sporting head to the Nou Camp on an eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions, with Friday's 1-0 win over Belenenses leaving them level with Porto at the top of the Primeira Liga.

They have Sebastian Coates available again after a ban while Seydou Doumbia is back in training but Jonathan Silva continues on the sidelines, while Barca are set to be without Andres Iniesta, Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti through injury.

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