Martino: Form should secure win
Gerardo Martino said that if Barcelona play as they have in their two most recent La Liga games they should win Wednesday’s Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg at Levante.
• Ledwith: Barca get second chance versus Levante
Barca drew 1-1 at Levante last Sunday, a second consecutive Primera Division draw following the 0-0 at Atletico Madrid the weekend before, with the opposition in both games sitting deep and succeeding in disrupting Barca’s passing game.
Despite these setbacks, the blaugrana coach said he trusted in his team’s style of play and was not planning many tweaks for their return to the Ciutat de Valencia stadium.
“We expect the same as in the last game,” Martino said. “More than work on [breaking down packed defences], we have talked about how we can break their defensive structure and do them damage.
“After two draws, if we keep playing the same way, we have more chance of winning than drawing again. The opponents play as they can, as they want, and it is up to us to solve problems they present.”
Andres Iniesta has been left out of the travelling squad for the return to Levante due to the knee knock suffered against Atletico, but Martino played down fears the problem was serious.
“[Iniesta] is still doing different training work,” the Barca boss said. “He did not look quite right in the last training sessions, so I thought he needed a little more to be considered. This is not the most decisive time of the season, so I did not want to run risks he might worsen the injury.”
Lionel Messi is expected to make a 400th Barca appearance in Wednesday's game, with Martino confirming the Argentina captain was now fully over his recent thigh muscle problems.
“[Messi] has played the last two complete games, and has felt good,” he said. “Now he will keep playing, when we think he needs to stop he will. But now he is like any other player in the squad, training well, playing well. We no longer have to think of him as someone coming back from injury.”
Defenders Gerard Pique and Martin Montoya are being rested for Wednesday’s game, with Copa keeper Jose Pinto expected to come into the side, and Dani Alves [suspended for Saturday’s La Liga meeting] Adriano Correia, Carles Puyol, Marc Bartra, Sergi Roberto, Cristian Tello and Alex Song among those who could also start as Martino manages his resources through a heavy January schedule.
Such rotation would continue, with no thought of playing his strongest XI this time to try and ensure a win, Martino said.
“The idea remains that the players arrive at the end of the season well,” he said. “We are not going to change that idea because of one result.”
Levante’s goal on Sunday came from a corner kick, and meant that six of the 13 conceded by Barca in the Primera Division this season have arrived from set-pieces.
Martino accepted his team had issues in that area, but said that was the risk you took when fielding smaller more technical players.
“It is a problem we have, with a smaller team with players like Dani Alves, Jordi Alba, Xavi and others,” he said. “In which are we going to trust in more -- in our style of play or in set-pieces? Sometimes that might cost us a goal, but we will have much more chance of winning by keeping our style of play.”
The Argentine coach mostly declined to get involved in the ongoing debate over how much Barca paid for Neymar, but did defend his own comment made last summer that the money paid by Real Madrid for Gareth Bale had been excessive.
“The president has said what he said, and we stick to our job, which is playing football,” he said. “I believe what the president said. [But] one player cost 50 something [million euros] and the other more than 90.”