Smalling hit Messi like a train, says Valverde

By Sports Desk April 12, 2019

Lionel Messi could be rested against Huesca after a challenge by Manchester United defender Chris Smalling was compared by Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde to being hit by a train.

Messi was left with a swollen eye and a bloody nose after being caught in the face by Smalling's elbow during the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.

The Barcelona captain completed the match, which Valverde's side won 1-0, but he could sit out their trip to LaLiga strugglers Huesca.

Strike partner Luis Suarez, though, should be available for Saturday's game despite appearing to be struggling in the closing stages at Old Trafford, while Ousmane Dembele is back from a torn hamstring.

Smalling, who was not punished during the game, said his clash with Messi was an accident, while former United manager Jose Mourinho said the incident happened because the defender has "tall arms".

Valverde, though, said the clash could result in Messi being given the weekend off ahead of United's visit to Camp Nou for the second leg.

"It is possible that Messi rests, the blow was strong, as if a train runs over you," Valverde told reporters on Friday. "I spoke with him and it is a possibility."

On Suarez, he added: "He's fine, but at the end of the matches there are always problems that then appear, but we see him well, it was a very intense game, it's normal.

"Tomorrow is important for [Ousmane] Dembele, not in terms of being important for the Manchester United game. We need to really focus on getting the three points we need. I know focus can turn to games like ones at Old Trafford but we have to maintain our mental focus on the next game.

Valverde has been adamant it is too early to talk up Barca's treble chances, despite last weekend's victory over Atletico Madrid giving them an 11-point cushion in LaLiga.

His side are also through to the final of the Copa del Rey, where they will face Valencia, while winning at Old Trafford gives the Catalan club the advantage over United in their bid to lift the Champions League for the first time since 2015.

"I think last season we were also in the same position at the same stage and we won two trophies [LaLiga and Copa del Rey]," said Valverde. "But we haven't won any at the moment. We'll be happy with one, happy with two and ecstatic if we win three.

"Circumstances are what they are, there may be changes tomorrow but we do not forget that we have 10 points left to be champions. No matter how much we think it is won, it is not."

Barca beat Atleti after Diego Costa was sent off after clashing with match referee Jesus Gil Manzano.

The striker has been banned for eight matches by the Royal Spanish Football Federation: four for foul-mouthed comments made towards the referee and another four for grabbing the official's arm.

Diego Simeone labelled the ban "excessive" and Valverde also expressed surprise at the scale of Costa's punishment, which is a further blow to Atletico's already slim hopes of catching Barca.

"It's a considerable suspension. I think it's four for one incident. four for another," Valverde added. "I thought it would be four as something similar happened with [Gerard] Pique and he missed four games. Eight games, I'm not sure of the rules but it's a big suspension."

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