Lionel Messi is back in the Barcelona squad for Sunday’s match against Real Betis, but there is no Ousmane Dembele after reports of disciplinary trouble involving the Frenchman.
Messi has missed almost three weeks of action with a fractured arm but was back in training this week and was named in Ernesto Valverde’s 19-man squad for the match against Betis.
But Dembele was notable by his absence following reports he failed to show for training on Thursday, having not notified the club he was suffering with gastroenteritis.
“It is not a punishment,” Valverde said of the 21-year-old’s absence. “Everyone can interpret it as they wish.”
Dembele’s latest indiscretion has led to further speculation over the long-term future of the €105m signing from Borussia Dortmund, but Valverde said he remained keen to help him realise his potential.
“The talent that Dembele has is difficult to find and we have to help him take advantage of it,” he said. “We want the best from every player in our team. Dembele has incredible talent and we want to help him show it some day.”
While Dembele may be proving a distraction this week Messi’s return will come as a huge boost and the Argentinian was not alone in resuming training, with Samuel Umtiti and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen also included following injuries. Umtiti has not played since September due to a knee problem.
“Everyone who is selected is in good shape,” Valverde said. “The return of Umtiti and Messi isn’t a risk.
“It is true that we are looking after Marc, but he’s available for the game against Betis.
“We will see tomorrow if Messi is ready to play for 90 minutes or not, but he’s lost the fear from his fall already.”
However, Philippe Coutinho will not feature due to a hamstring strain.
Barcelona began the weekend three points clear at the top of La Liga, having won their last three league outings.
Betis are down in 14th, without a win in their last four in the league, though coach Quique Setien believes he has seen the right things in recent draws against Celta Vigo and AC Milan.
“We have taken a step forward and the players have got a bit of their confidence back,” he said.
“But we still need to do better in some of the situations we are creating.”