Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino says he will field a strong team in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semifinal second leg at Real Sociedad, but would not reveal if fit again Neymar would return following almost a month out.
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The Brazilian has been included in Barca’s travelling squad for the game at Anoeta, after earlier being named in Brazil’s squad for the friendly against South Africa on March 5, but has not yet received the all-clear from his club’s medical staff.
But with his side already 2-0 up from last week’s first leg at the Camp Nou, Martino is not short of options as he looks to keep everyone fresh ahead of Saturday’s La Liga home clash with Rayo Vallecano, and the following Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg at Manchester City.
The Argentine coach told his prematch news conference that he would be careful not to take any risks with the fitness of the former Santos attacker, who has not played since suffering a serious ankle sprain against Getafe on Jan. 16.
“[Neymar] has done almost his second full training session with the group,” Martino said. “He felt no pain and physically he is good. We will see between tomorrow’s game, the game against Rayo and the game in Manchester. The importance of the game is not important, he will come back when there are the least risks possible.”
Regular starters Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas and Dani Alves all began on the bench for Barca’s 4-1 La Liga win at Sevilla last Sunday, while Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba were suspended for that game.
Copa keeper Jose Pinto and youngsters Sergi Roberto and Cristian Tello are also options to come in against Real Sociedad, while Carles Puyol is also available again after being named in a larger than usual 25-man travelling party.
Martino said he was taking the Copa very seriously, and whatever team he did name would be capable of ensuring passage to the final.
“We are 90 minutes from having the chance to play one of three possible finals of the season,” he said. “Every time we choose 11 players we pick a team to go out and win the game.”
Asked if he was worried about the recent defensive lapses which have seen Barca suffer at the back -- including in last week’s first leg -- Tata said the key to ensuring no scares in Wednesday’s return game would be to deny La Real possession of the ball.
“It is very important not to provoke a game with lots of to and fro attacks -- as they have players who can damage you on the counter,” Martino said. “For us controlling the game through possession is important, so as not to give them any chances. Normally at home they play less on the break, and look to be get the ball and play. So for us the best thing to do is to keep the ball from them.”