Messi goes off at halftime in 1st start since injury layoff

              Barcelona's head coach Ernesto Valverde, left, stands near Lionel Messi after he left the field to get treatment on getting hurt during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Villarreal CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi was substituted at halftime of his first start for Barcelona since a long injury layoff because of a leg muscle problem.

Messi hurt his left leg less than half an hour into the Spanish league match against Villarreal at Camp Nou Stadium on Tuesday. The playmaker left the field and doctors attended to his leg for few minutes before he eventually returned and finished the half.

Messi didn’t return for the second half, though, being replaced by Ousmane Dembele.

“When something happens to Messi, it seems that the world comes to a halt,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “But it looks like it’s only some minor pain in his abductor (muscle). We replaced him as a precaution. We don’t want to take any risks.”

Messi had set up Antoine Griezmann’s opening goal early in the match, which Barcelona won 2-1 to move to fourth place with 10 points from six matches.

Messi played his first minutes of the season when he came off the bench in the second half of a 0-0 draw against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last week. He also came off the bench in the second half of the 2-0 loss at Granada in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been sidelined because of a right calf injury picked up in the preseason.

Dembele has also been injured, and made his first appearance since the league opener.