Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has left Lionel Messi out of his Copa del Rey squad for the final-32 second-leg game against Villanovense on 3 December after the Argentine missed the previous training session. Having only managed a disappointing 0-0 draw in their visit to the Segunda Division B side in September, Barca need a positive result at the Nou Camp to progress further in the competition.
Messi was expected to play a part in the game as part of his road to full fitness following a knee injury that left him sidelined for two months. The four-time Ballon d'Or winner returned to action during the latter stages of the 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid on 21 November before completing 90 minutes against both Roma and Real Sociedad.
But alarm bells began ringing in Spain after it was reported Messi had trained away from his teammates on Tuesday, spending his time in the gym instead.
Barcelona, who failed to explain his absence from Tuesday's session, have now confirmed that Messi is not in the squad for the Copa del Rey tie due to a "coach decision". However, reports in Spain have played down fears over a new injury setback for the Argentinian ace, suggesting that both the missed training session and his exclusion from the cup squad are part of a plan to rest him following recent exertions, and he will have no problem playing Valencia on Saturday.
Luis Enrique has also left Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba out of the squad, confident his fringe players can beat a team from Spain's third tier.
"Among those left out of the squad due to coach's decision are Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba. Out due to injury are Douglas, Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and Marc-Andre ter Stegen," Barcelona said on their club website.
Barcelona squad to face Villanovense
Claudio Bravo, Jordi Masip, Daniel Alves, Andrés Iniesta, Luis Suárez, Neymar Jr., Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra, Munir El Haddadi, Sandro Ramírez, Adriano Correia, Thomas Vermaelen, Jérémy Mathieu, Sergi Samper, Gerard Gumbau and Aitor Cantalapiedra.