Messi & De Jong Benched for Barcelona vs Real Betis

Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong


Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has opted to start with captain Lionel Messi and key midfielder Frenkie de Jong on the bench for Sunday’s La Liga clash against Real Betis at the Benito Villamarín Stadium.

The visitors head into the match on a run of 10 games unbeaten in the Spanish top flight, but Koeman has opted to rest some of his key stars ahead of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semi-final first leg against Sevilla.

Teenage midfielder Pedri also joins the duo on the bench and is given a rare breather, while Riqui Puig is rewarded for some impressive cameos as a substitute with his first La Liga start of the season.

Puig lines up alongside Miralem Pjanic and Sergio Busquets in midfield, while Antoine Griezmann, Martin Braithwaite, and Ousmane Dembele start in attack for the Catalan giants.

Elsewhere, Clement Lenglet returns in central defense alongside Ronald Araujo with Oscar Mingueza starting at right-back and Jordi Alba at left full-back.

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Koeman Thinking About Sevilla & PSG?

Koeman’s team selection suggests the Dutch coach is thinking about next week’s Copa del Rey and Barca’s upcoming Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca are two just games away from reaching a Copa del Rey final against either Athletic or Levante and host the French champions in the last-16 of Europe’s top competition on February 16.

The Copa certainly looks Barca’s best chance of silverware this season. Despite the team’s impressive form recently, Barca remain 10 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid in La Liga, and the Rojiblancos also have a game in hand.

The Champions League also looks a tough ask for Barca with Koeman’s men up against a star-studded PSG side for a place in the quarter-finals. The Ligue 1 made it all the way to the final last season before going down 1-0 to Bayern Munich.

Barca Explain Changes

Yet Koeman may also be protecting his players from a very congested fixture list. Sunday’s match at Real Betis is the first of four games in the space of 10 days for the Catalan giants.

Barca head to Sevilla on Wednesday, welcome Alaves to the Camp Nou on Saturday in La Liga and then play host to PSG in the Champions League three days later.

Koeman was critical of the team’s schedule in his pre-match press conference, while his assistant Alfred Schreuder spoke about the decision to rotate the starting XI ahead of kick-off, as reported by Mundo Deportivo.

The team has had a lot of wear and tear in the last matches and we must not forget that on Wednesday they will be playing again. They have been intense weeks, but I hope the two teams dominate the ball, it is the philosophy of Betis.

in January there have been eleven games, and ten away. We need everyone fresh. Riqui has been playing very well in recent weeks. Of course, we have to control that area of ​​the field, too.

This is not the first time this season that Koeman has chosen to rest Messi, and it’s worth noting Barca have a good record when playing without their captain this season.

There’s still plenty of quality in tonight’s team despite Koeman’s changes. Griezmann is a man in superb form with seven goals and six assists so far in 2021, while Puig will be desperate to grab a rare chance to impress in the starting XI.

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