Luis Enrique defends Lionel Messi

Messi is serving a four-match ban for Argentina and must sit out Barcelona's trip to Granada but Luis Enrique praised his conduct.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi   -  Getty Images

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has defended Lionel Messi's conduct towards match officials after he was hit with a four-game ban from FIFA for abusing a linesman. Messi scored the only goal from the penalty spot as Argentina beat Chile 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier last week but ended the match in dispute with the official.

FIFA studied video footage of an enraged Messi and handed down the ban on the day of Argentina's qualifier in Bolivia – Edgardo Bauza's men crashed to a 2-0 defeat in his absence to leave their hopes of reaching Russia 2018 in jeopardy.

The Argentinian Football Association has pledged to appeal the punishment and Luis Enrique expressed surprise, even though the five-time Ballon d'Or winner will serve a domestic suspension when Barcelona travels to Granada on Sunday having collected a fifth booking of the top-flight season last time out.

'Impeccable behaviour'

"It seems incredible to me," he told a news conference. "He has only been booked seven times [in all competitions] this season and, with Barcelona, he is super respectful to the referees. He is not very controversial, he is very respectful and he does not generate controversy. He has impeccable behaviour."

Argentina has won only one of its eight CONMEBOL qualifiers without Messi in the side but Luis Enrique feels Barca is not quite as reliant on its long-time talisman as he makes alternative plans for the trip to Los Carmenes. "In footballing terms, his absence does not affect anything because we will use the same system – all our players adapt to what we ask," he said.

"I would like to have Leo in all games but it is not possible. He can enjoy a rest – he is loaded with minutes and can rest."