MADRID (AP) — The Champions League has been Barcelona’s safe haven this season, so much so that the club will leave Lionel Messi at home for Tuesday’s match in Ukraine.
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman is resting Messi and midfielder Frenkie de Jong for the game against Dynamo Kyiv, when the Catalan club can secure a spot in the knockout stage for the 17th straight season.
“Neither Leo nor Frenkie are traveling,” Koeman said Monday. “They need some rest. With nine points in our group, we are in a comfortable situation and we have to keep them fresh.”
Messi has played in every match so far this season after having his request to leave the club denied in the offseason. De Jong had also played in every match, and both also spent time with their national teams.
“In Leo’s case you also have trips to South America (to play with Argentina),” Koeman said. “We have to protect our players. It’s impossible for them to play every match and always be at their best. Everyone knows that, but we have to keep playing several matches. FIFA and UEFA should take action because it’s impossible to be playing all these matches.”
Barcelona’s perfect campaign in the Champions League has been the only good thing for the club recently. It doesn’t have a president in charge, it is dealing with financial difficulties, several of its players are injured and it has struggled in the Spanish league.
Barcelona is coming off a loss to Atlético Madrid that left the team in 12th place in the Spanish league after eight matches.
“We can’t be happy with our results, but we need to stay motivated,” Koeman said. “We have another match tomorrow (Tuesday) and we are one step away from advancing, so we have to take advantage of this opportunity.”
The club is being led by a managing committee since former president Josep Bartomeu and his board of directors resigned after the fallout from the Messi crisis. The club also has been in the middle of difficult negotiations with players to adjust their salaries amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In the match against Atlético, Barcelona also lost two players because of injuries — Sergi Roberto with a muscle injury and Gerard Piqué with a serious knee injury.
“(Piqué) represents a significant absence,” Koeman said. “He has been here for several years and has great personality. It’s sad for the team and for the club. It’s tough, but we have to accept it and try to solve the problem.”
Koeman said he may use a player from the “B” team to make up for the shortage in central defenders. He could use 21-year-old Óscar Mingueza to play alongside Clément Lenglet, as Ronald Araújo is returning from an injury. De Jong has played as a central defender and is an option for Koeman in future matches.
“We can’t take any risks because we have very few central defenders,” he said.
Lenglet said he would be willing to play on the right side if needed.
“It’s not my usual position, it’s a bit different, but I can do it to try to help the club,” he said.
Barcelona has won its Champions League group every time since 2007-08, and it hasn’t lost a group match since the 2016-17 season. Dynamo Kyiv is making its first group appearance since that 2016-17 season.
With three victories from three matches, Barcelona leads Group G ahead of Juventus and has an eight-point advantage over both Dynamo Kyiv and Hungarian club Ferencváros. Juventus has six points.
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