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Messi Benched, Coutinho To Start, In Barcelona's Catalan Derby With Espanyol

Messi Benched, Coutinho To Start, In Barcelona's Catalan Derby With Espanyol

Lionel Messi started a La Liga game on the bench for the first time this season with Ernesto Valverde keeping an eye on Barcelona's Copa del Rey semi-final second leg on Thursday.

With AP Photos.Gerard Pique scored a late equalizer for Barcelona in a 1-1 draw at Espanyol as the Spanish league leader narrowly avoided losing to its crosstown rival for the second time in less than three weeks.

The Barcelona manager hinted towards the same in his pre-match press conference, while also providing a fitness update on Ousmane Dembele, who has returned to training after recovering from a hamstring injury. But, the Belgian defender's absence does not pose much of a problem with the first-choice pairing of Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti, in addition to Yerry Mina, all available.

"He's not ready to play right now", he said at a press conference ahead of Sunday's game.

With Umtiti suspended for Sunday's league game against Getafe, it could signal the start of a run of games for the Colombian global.

Angel Correa's rocket earned Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win over Valencia in the late game as they too extended their lead over under-performing city rivals Real Madrid.

Ernesto Valverde will hope to have him back for the Champions League game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on February 20.

Messi spoke with Barca's new £10.5million signing Yerry Mina as he stretched before training
Messi spoke with Barca's new £10.5million signing Yerry Mina as he stretched before training

"The club and owners should denounce certain things that are said".

After Pique scored on Sunday he ran off in celebration before approaching a stand packed with Espanyol supporters and putting his finger to his lips.

'Pique will not be able to silence our fans, not our fans, this is not something we will concern ourselves with.

As the game progressed, you could play less and we have become accustomed to the circumstances.

Dembele has been limited to just seven appearances in all competitions for the Catalan side this season, starting only two games in La Liga. Later it was more wild. On our part, we will not get into this game or provocations, we respect everyone. "Everybody must take responsibility for their actions".

MF Andres Iniesta, 8 - The only Barcelona player who could walk on water. "For others, it's not like that and that's a result of their own behaviour".

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