Barcelona left Messi on the subs bench for the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final with Real.
Real took a shock lead early on in the clash but Malcom’s second-half equaliser meant the two sides head back to Madrid with a 1-1 first-leg score.
Messi eventually came on for Barca but could not find the winner against his side’s most bitter rivals.
Messi was an injury doubt for the game after hurting himself in a La Liga game at the weekend.
It was hoped he would be able to shake off the problem but Barca did not want to risk aggravating it with a full 90-minute run-out.
And German newspaper Kicker claim that decision was not purely because of Messi’s fitness alone.
According to the report, Barcelona are already preparing for life without Messi, knowing the mercurial Argentine will eventually either quit the club or retire.
Messi, 31, has a contract at Barcelona until 2021 and has already stated his desire to play for Newell’s Old Boys back in Argentina before he retires.
Kicker claim Barca have been buying up young talent in the hope they have a strong foundation for a trophy-winning squad once Messi leaves.
That’s why the likes of Arthur, Malcom, Ousmane Dembele, Jean-Clair Todibo and Frenkie de Jong have been signed by the club.
After the draw in the Nou Camp, Barca manager Ernesto Valverde said: “We are introducing great young players to the team as we need to continue this successful era, which is our responsibility.”
Barca have evidence of what happens when a talismanic star leaves a successful club – by looking at Real Madrid.
Real sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus in a £105m deal last summer, with the Portugal international singing a four-year contract worth £106m.
Ronaldo’s exit came after he had helped Real win a third straight Champions League crown.
But almost immediately Real failed to cope without their superstar and new manager Julen Lopetegui was sacked in October after a 5-1 loss to Barca.
Real have recovered since but are effectively out of the title race and face a difficult challenge to win the Champions League this term.
Bosses at the Nou Camp do not want a similar fate to befall them once Messi leaves the club.