By 90Min
February 07, 2019

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has admitted the benching of Lionel Messi for the Copa del Rey Clasico first leg was a precautionary measure, as the home side struggled to break down their rivals at the Nou Camp.

Real Madrid were the better side in the first half, capitalising on their early pressure with a sixth minute goal from Lucas Vazquez following some excellent work from Karim Benzema. However, La Blaugrana slowly crept back into the game, and by the 57th minute they had their equaliser through the impressive Malcom.

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Still, their attacking struggles didn't go unnoticed by fans, who regularly whistled after wasted opportunities before breaking into cries for their talisman. And, speaking to Sport English after the game, Valverde revealed: "Messi is OK but we preferred to not take any risks given the stage of the season we're at.

"The decision is taken based what I think is best for team and for the player. He ended the other day with a small problem but he felt fine today. We thought that it was best to bring him on in the second half. When he came on could have been decisive. Every time he gets on the ball we know what it does to the opposition."

But Valverde intimated that the number ten still wasn't 100% when he answered a question about his likelihood of starting against Athletic Bilbao this weekend, as he admitted: "I don't know. I hope so. If he's fit, he will start."

In Messi's absence it was Malcom who took up his mantle the most effectively, proving a menace to Marcelo throughout, and getting his side back into the tie with a deserved score. This earned some praise from Valverde, as quoted by Marca, who proclaimed: "It was a difficult test because it's a very special match. He was connecting with his teammates very well."

As for the state of the tie at this halfway stage, which Real contain a slight advantage in with their away goal, Valverde conceded: "We have to score, it's simple. The tie is open."

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