Messi panenka free kick caught Barcelona boss Valverde off guard

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Ernesto Valverde has revealed that he had “no idea” Lionel Messi would attempt a panenka free kick in Barcelona’s victory against Espanyol on Saturday.

Messi put a disappointing international break with Argentina behind him with a double to edge Barca closer to a 26th Liga title.

It ensured Messi surpassed 40 goals in a season for the 10th successive year and moved Barcelona 13 points clear at the top of the table.

The 31-year-old then wrapped up the points when he converted Malcom’s cross in the final minute of normal time.

Speaking to reporters after the game Valverde admitted he was caught off guard by Messi’s opener.

“I had no idea what he was going to do,” Valverde said. “I’d love to say it’s something we plan but it’s not like that, he did not pay attention to me and scored a goal.

“I suppose the goal will be awarded to Messi. It is not easy to beat the wall being so close to the goal. Some rivals put a player on the ground; others put a player on the goal line. For now, we are doing well like that.”

The win at the Camp Nou kicked off a busy period for Valverde’s side, with Villarreal and Atletico Madrid to come in the league over the next week before the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester United on April 10.

Valverde admitted he would look to utilise his squad as negotiates such a hectic run of fixtures but would not be drawn on whether Messi is one of them.

“With the schedule, we have to use the whole team because the matches are very close,” he said. “It will be normal to have changes and we’ll see if Leo is one of them.”
Valverde also wouldn’t comment on whether Messi is more comfortable in a Barcelona shirt than an Argentina one following his difficult return for the Albiceleste during the international break.

The Blaugrana coach said: “Messi is the same player in Barcelona and Argentina and it would be the same if he played with Australia.

“I do not enter into things with his country, I can only say that we are delighted with him, I just hope he is happy because that makes him better.”

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