Messi: Barça star likely to start on the bench against Betis

Ernesto Valverde won't take any risks with his star man but in the absence of Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé may have to throw him on.

Leo Messi, en el entrenamiento del FC Barcelona el 21 de agosto junto a Sergi Roberto y Samuel Umtiti

Ernesto Valverde faces a selection dilemma as Barça prepare to host Real Betis at Camp Nou on Sunday evening with Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé both ruled out and Leo Messi still not fully recovered from a call strain.

Barça were beaten on the opening day of the season at Athletic Bilbao and can ill-afford another set-back as they host Rubi’s side, who also went down rather unexpectedly at home against Valladolid on the opening weekend.

AS understands that Valverde’s idea is to continue with his cautious approach to easing his star player back into the fold: although he has trained this week, Messi is still not 100 percent fit and is likely to start on the bench against Betis with a view to playing the final half hour, regardless of the result at that stage of the game.

Betis to face unfamiliar Barça forward line

Should Messi himself announce he is fit to play there is little doubt Valverde will accede to his request give the need for a positive result but with only three days of training under his belt it seems unlikely that either player or coach will take the chance. If Barça are behind at the hour mark, there are few better players to have on the bench to come on and run at a tiring defence than Messi.

In the absence of Suárez and Dembélé, Valverde will be hoping that Rafinha is fully recovered from a stomach issue after returning from a lengthy injury layoff of his own. The Brazilian put in an eye-catching cameo from the bench against Athletic, rattling the bar with a shot from distance, and if he is available he will take his place in the attack alongside Antoine Griezmann.

The likeliest candidate to replace Dembélé, with Philippe Coutinho gone, is La Masia graduate Carles Pérez, who top-scored for Barça during their pre-season tour of Asia.