Martino: Don't write Barcelona off yet
Gerardo Martino has asked his critics for a little bit of perspective ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 second leg against Manchester City at the Camp Nou.
The Barcelona coach -- and his players -- have come in for a torrent of criticism from pundits and fans following Saturday’s limp 1-0 La Liga defeat at Valladolid, a third defeat in six games for the Catalan side.
But the team remain quite well-placed in all three main competitions, given they have already qualified for the Copa del Rey final, are currently just four points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid, and have a 2-0 advantage from the Champions League first leg at City’s Etihad stadium.
‘Tata’ told his prematch news conference that his players may have lacked consistency in recent performances, but they were still fighting on all fronts as the business end of the season approached.
“This team is alive, it has pride, courage, it knows how to play these games,” Martino said. “I would not take the risk of discarding Barca. The lack of consistency is a football issue -- not to do with motivation or individual players’ level dropping. We are in a pretty favourable position. We just have to leave to one side what happened in the game at Valladolid. That was, for football, our worst game of the season.”
Knowing that City will need to attack at the Camp Nou, Martino said the best way to nullify the English side’s dangermen was to keep the ball away from them.
“The best way for us to put the result in risk would be to think about the 2-0 score,” he said. “We must think about a second half which is beginning at 0-0. [Sergio] Aguero, [Samir] Nasri, [Yaya] Toure, [David] Silva... City have many players who can concern you. It is up to us to keep them out of the game.”
A possession-based approach would mean Barca’s four ball-playing midfielders -- Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas -- would start again as they did in the first leg, Martino hinted.
“I have not changed my view of the opponent, of their characteristics and what we need to do,” he said. “We should play the same way to have the best chance to win. It is clearer that with three attackers we have reached a good place in all competitions, so that idea is not discarded. But in some games, depending on the opponent, we can opt for more possession and use the four volantes [midfielders].”
Although Blaugrana president Josep Maria Bartomeu has regularly backed his coach in public in recent weeks, speculation continues to suggest that Martino and the club might end their association this summer. The Argentine said he still felt fully supported by the squad, while pushing any talk of next season away into the future.
“I feel 100 percent backed by my players,” Martino said. “Without a doubt. That is probably my biggest motivation. I never think I need to talk about what I should do next season, neither my own position, or the players who are here or who are not here.”