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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Watch: Messi dropped for Barcelona match against Espanyol because 'he needed to take a break'

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has said he started Lionel Messi on the bench against Espanyol on Sunday because the Argentine forward "needed to take a break".

Barca needed a late equaliser from defender Gerard Pique, assisted by Messi, to avoid defeat at the Cornella-El Prat after Gerard Moreno had put Espanyol in front with 24 minutes remaining.

Messi was introduced shortly before Espanyol's opener, but his absence from the first hour of the match ultimately proved costly as Barcelona saw their lead at the top of the Primera Liga reduced to nine points following Atletico Madrid's 1-0 win over third-placed Valencia.

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The draw at Espanyol also denied Barca the chance of further extend their lead over Real Madrid, who were held to a 2-2 draw against Levante on Saturday.

However, Valverde has stuck by his decision to rest Messi, who has started all but three of Barcelona's 34 matches in all competitions this season.

"It was nothing to do with the conditions of the pitch, or if it was raining or anything related," Valverde told reporters. "It is something that I had thought about it, and I had spoken with him.

"Messi has played a lot of games in a row, and in the same way Suarez rested when we played here in Copa del Rey, and another player also rested, he also needed to take a break.

"We have played a lot of games in January, and we have still a lot to play. But it s nothing to do with the conditions of the pitch. "

Barcelona next travel to the Mestalla to face Valencia in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final on Friday. The Catalans hold a 1-0 lead after the first-leg.

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