Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has expressed his dissatisfaction with the team's performance after their 5-4 loss to Levante in La Liga on Sunday and insisted the decision to rest Lionel Messi was the right one.
The Spanish champions have been chasing an unbeaten season, but they suffered a dramatic defeat in the penultimate game of the campaign at the Ciutat de Valencia, having trailed 5-1 at one stage.
Afterwards, the Blaugrana boss was asked about Messi's absence from the squad and said the team should've been good enough to win regardless.
"We've played games without Messi before and come through them," he said, per Samuel Marsden of ESPN FC. "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."
Valverde added that he felt "angry" at the loss but said he'll look to the future as "what makes me angry isn't going to give me solutions."
The defeat for Barca meant their unbeaten run concluded at 43 games, as we can see here:
Having drawn 2-2 with big rivals Real Madrid last weekend, few would've anticipated Barca having any issues in completing the unbeaten La Liga season.
But they were undone by some wonderful forward play from Levante, with Emmanuel Boateng grabbing a hat-trick and Enis Bardhi scoring two stunning goals. Philippe Coutinho scored three times for the visitors, before a Luis Suarez penalty cut the deficit to just one late on.
The game was another chapter in a curious season for Barcelona. Despite winning La Liga and the Copa del Rey, there have been some significant disappointments late in the campaign. Not only did the unbeaten run end dramatically here, the UEFA Champions League exit at the hands of Roma will continue to sting.
Still, Ben Hayward of Goal believes Cules should reflect on the campaign with fondness, putting their achievement into context:
The struggles without Messi will be something of a concern, as there is evidently a dependance on the forward.
This season much has been channeled through the 30-year-old, as he can control games, create chances and score goals.
As noted by football writer Colin Millar, the reported reasons behind Messi being rested may disappoint some Barca supporters:
Messi has played 35 of Barcelona's 37 La Liga matches so far this season. With the title won and the FIFA World Cup coming up, some time to recuperate at the end of a long campaign will be valuable for the Blaugrana icon.
The decision appears foolish in hindsight, as Barcelona have missed out on a chance to make history. However, the side Valverde fielded for the clash at Levante had the requisite quality to get over the line.