BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Luis Enrique defended the integrity of his team’s talisman Lionel Messi on Saturday after the Argentine was hit with a lengthy ban from international football for insulting an assistant referee.
Messi was handed a four-game suspension by FIFA on Tuesday for the incident during Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile in a World Cup qualifier, forcing him out of his side’s 2-0 defeat by Chile.
Messi is suspended for Barca’s La Liga game at Granada on Sunday after collecting five yellow cards in the league season, although he has only committed seven fouls in the campaign, receiving the majority of the bookings for dissent.
“Those numbers are incredible, he is super respectful towards referees and he never causes controversy,” Luis Enrique told reporters on Saturday.
“We should appreciate that especially when you consider he is the best player in the world, he is always under pressure and with everyone watching his every move. His behaviour is impeccable.”
Luis Enrique also confirmed that defender Gerard Pique has been rested for the trip to struggling Granada, who are seven points adrift of safety, but said neither absentee would tempt him to alter his side’s new 3-4-3 formation.
“It won’t affect our style of play because we can use the same system irrespective of who is available and we will because we believe it’s the best system for us,” he added.
Barca trail leaders Real Madrid by two points in the standings and have played a game more than Zinedine Zidane’s side, who host Alaves on Sunday four hours before Barca’s game.
Messi is the top scorer in La Liga with 25 goals and has scored nine times in his last seven appearances in all competitions for Barca, who have dropped five points in the three games he has sat out this season.
“Of course we would love to be able to count on Messi on Sunday but the good thing is that he gets to rest and that will serve him well,” Luis Enrique said.
Editing by Ed Osmond