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Messi doubtful for Betis clash

Sunday August 25 2019

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi gestures after shooting a free-kick during their 2019 Spanish Copa del Rey (King's Cup) final match against Valencia on May 25, 2019 at the Benito Villamarin stadium in Sevilla. PHOTO | JOSE JORDAN |

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi gestures after shooting a free-kick during their 2019 Spanish Copa del Rey (King's Cup) final match against Valencia on May 25, 2019 at the Benito Villamarin stadium in Sevilla. PHOTO | JOSE JORDAN |  AFP

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Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has said he will not risk Lionel Messi's fitness against Real Betis on Sunday and insists it is up to everyone to integrate Antoine Griezmann into the team.

Messi has returned to training this week after the Argentinian sustained a calf injury on August 5 and missed the whole of Barca's pre-season.

"If he is not 100 per cent, I think he won't play," said Valverde in a press conference on Saturday. "We have to wait for training, I can't predict anything. I don't know if we can count on him, or not, or to what extent."

Valverde will be particularly eager to have Messi back after Barcelona's 1-0 opening defeat to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga last weekend, during which both Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele were injured.

It leaves Griezmann as the only fully-fit striker for the game at home to Betis but the Frenchman was quiet against Bilbao, struggling to make an impact on his first competitive start for the club.

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"He is settling in more and more every day," Valverde said.

"What we want is for him to be involved a lot in the game. We know if he is involved, if he is busy and gets on the ball, he can be decisive.

"The other day against Athletic at San Mames, he was not as involved as we would have liked but it is also up to us to help him, to allow our strikers to participate more.

"We have to make our possession more productive, we have to work hard to bring them into play because we know they can be dangerous. It is the same for Antoine."

Dembele and Suarez are not expected back until after the international break after they picked up hamstring and calf injuries respectively.

Valverde also refused to comment on reports that Dembele skipped club medical tests last weekend to spend time in France.

"I don't want to talk too much about the Dembele thing," Valverde said. "People always make a lot out of things to do with him so I am not going to comment."

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