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Barcelona boss Valverde defends Messi omission in Copa del Rey defeat

Ernesto Valverde defended resting Lionel Messi as Barcelona were left on the brink of Copa del Rey elimination following a 2-0 loss at Sevilla on Wednesday.

Second-half goals from Pablo Sarabia and Wissam Ben Yedder left Sevilla in a commanding position against holders Barca in the quarterfinal tie going into next week's second leg at Camp Nou.

Messi, who's scored 25 times in 24 appearances this season, wasn't even included in the Barca squad for the game despite only being on the bench for Sunday's win over Leganes.

Sergio Busquets was also left out, while Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba and Philippe Coutinho were left on the bench and Ousmane Dembele was out injured.

However, Valverde backed his decision to make so many changes, insisting that leaving Messi out was the right call and suggesting last season's early Champions League exit was in part down to a lack of rotations in the cup.

"I don't regret it," he said in a news conference when asked directly about Messi's absence. "It's what I had to do."

Barca have won the last four domestic cups in Spain but it was put to Valverde that he had "thrown" the competition this year by rotating at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

"No [that's not the case], I know what the cup means," he added. "It seems that when you win it many times [in a row], you don't value it. It seems that way until you lose, then you value it.

"Last year, we paid the price for the effort we made to continue in the cup. This year, we're rotating more because I think it's for the best.

"When you make changes, you take risks. If you win, you've got it right. But if you don't... We have an important game on Sunday now [at Girona] which we want to win. It will be tough because Girona are a good side. After that, we want to keep going in the Copa del Rey and turn things around."

As well as handing starts to Malcom and Carles Alena, Valverde also handed a full debut to new signing Kevin Prince Boateng, who has only trained with his new teammates once since joining on loan from Sassuolo this week.

"It was a risky decision, but one I thought I had to take," the coach explained. "I thought it was for the best if he played for an hour, then Luis [Suarez] for the last 30 minutes, even though [Boateng] has just got here.

"We're immersed in games at the moment, they don't stop and we thought he could help us."

There was better news off the pitch for Barcelona on Wednesday as they beat Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City to the signing of Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

Barca will pay an initial fee of €75 million for the Dutch international, who will join at the end of the season.

"It's an exciting signing for the club, with an eye on the present and the future," Valverde said. "De Jong is a great player, with a big future ahead of him. We wish him the best because his success will be the club's success. It's a great signing, a great achievement [getting it done]."

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