Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde defends resting Lionel Messi vs. Levante
Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde defended his decision to rest Lionel Messi in the 5-4 loss at Levante that ended his side's chance to become the first La Liga team to finish a season unbeaten in the modern era.
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was left at home to rest while Barcelona's record-breaking 43-game unbeaten streak in the league was snapped by the hosts in the Catalan's penultimate fixture of the 2017-18 campaign.
"We've played games without Messi before and come through them," Valverde said at his news conference. "We're all annoyed to lose. It's come in the 37th game, so it hurts to lose [the unbeaten season] now, but it could have come in the first, third or 14th game."
Malaga had been the last side to beat Barca in Spain's top flight -- on April 8, 2017 -- however, a hat trick from Emmanuel Boateng and two stunning strikes from Enis Bardhi saw Valverde's men sensationally come up short of history at the Ciutat de Valencia on Sunday.
"I feel very angry but I have to look forward because what makes me angry isn't going to give me solutions," Valverde said.
"It was a surprising game, because of the result and how it came about. [Levante] are in very good form, they are very effective, they started the game really well and caused us a lot of damage on the counter-attack."
Barca sealed the league title two weeks ago, completing a domestic double that included the Copa del Rey crown, but Valverde had set his sights on a "historic" unbeaten campaign.
The fear now is that a year which has ended with more success in La Liga and the Copa will be remembered for shortcomings in the Champions League and a failure to end the season without a loss.
Midfielder Sergio Busquets argued that shouldn't be the case, though, and said the loss to Levante shouldn't take away from what has been an "incredible" campaign.
"Obviously, we wanted to end the season unbeaten, but this doesn't take any credit away from what we have done this year and everything we have achieved in La Liga," Busquets told reporters.
"It's shame to lose [the chance of an unbeaten season], but don't forget that we've won the league. It's been an incredible season and, if you look beyond this one game, I think we can be proud."
Barca trailed 2-1 at half-time, with Philippe Coutinho responding to Boateng's early brace, before a barely-believable 10-minute spell at the start of the second period saw them trailing 5-1.
Coutinho's second goal of the night and a Luis Suarez penalty set up an exciting finale but the home side held on for a famous win.
"The game was determined at the start of the second half in those crazy 10 minutes," Valverde added. "Normally, you're able to control some of the counter-attacks. Today it was impossible -- every time they attacked, they scored."
Barca, who have 90 points, 12 more than second-place Atletico Madrid, end the season next weekend at home to Real Sociedad in what will be Andres Iniesta's last match for the club.
Levante, meanwhile, are up to 15th in the table and looking forward to another season in La Liga following an incredible run of form under new coach Paco Lopez. Since Lopez was hired, they have picked up 25 points in 10 games, more than any other side in the league.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.