MADRID (AFP) – Lionel Messi endured yet more injury frustration early yesterday after going off at half-time against Villarreal, but Barcelona gave their coach Ernesto Valverde some much-needed relief with a comfortable 2-1 victory.
Messi received treatment in the first half for what looked like a problem with his left thigh and was then unable to continue after the interval, replaced by Ousmane Dembele.
His withdrawal will be a major concern for Barca, particularly given this was Messi’s first start of the season after just recovering from a niggling calf injury sustained at the start of August.
After the match, Valverde struck a note of calm.
“When something happens to Messi, everyone stops, not only on the field, but in the stands as well,” he said.
“It is a small problem in the adductor and as a precaution we have decided not to risk it. In theory, it is nothing more but we will see tomorrow how it is.”
Barcelona visit Getafe in La Liga on Saturday before playing Inter Milan at home in the Champions League four days later.
Certainly, they would have been eager to see Messi back in their line-up, having suffered a humbling 2-0 loss at newly-promoted Granada last weekend, a result that left them with seven points from five games, their worst start to a season since 1995.
They arrived at Camp Nou with doubts hovering, particularly over Valverde, but delivered a far more convincing win than the scoreline suggested, thanks to early goals from Antoine Griezmann, his third of the season, and Arthur Melo.
“We are still far from our best but with matches everything will improve,” said Griezmann.
On his own adaptation at Barcelona, he added, “It’s different. A different style of football, a different position. I knew it was going to be a challenge and it would take time. But I’m not too bad, right? Three goals. I can do better, yes, but I have to keep working.”
Santi Cazorla put Villarreal in touch on the stroke of half-time but in truth the visitors barely threatened thereafter, with Barcelona impressively composed when nerves might have easily taken over.
It means Valverde’s side climb to fourth in the table, one point behind Real Madrid and level on points with Atletico Madrid. Villarreal’s encouraging start stalls a little as they drop to eighth.