Barcelona defenders battling to be fit
Barcelona centre-backs Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Marc Bartra all face late fitness tests to determine whether they can feature in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid.
The trio have been receiving treatment for respective hip, knee and hamstring problems and, although they have been named in the travelling squad for the clasico in Valencia, coach Gerardo Martino is uncertain whether they will be available.
Javier Mascherano appears certain to start, but Adriano Correia and Alex Song are standing by as emergency options should the three specialist centre-backs fail to prove their fitness.
“We have chances with the three players to be able to count on some of them,” Martino told his prematch news conference on Tuesday. “They responded well at training [on Tuesday morning], but we will wait until tomorrow before deciding.
“If the decision is that Puyol plays, it will be a big lift for the team and for his teammates. From what I have seen at training today, Bartra is much better, but no player will play unless he is fit and ready.”
Barcelona will look to secure a morale-boosting victory over their arch-rivals after they were knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid and then slipped back in the La Liga race with Saturday’s shock 1-0 defeat at Granada.
The back-to-back defeats have led to increased speculation over Martino’s position, but the Argentine, who has refused regularly to either confirm or deny he would leave the Camp Nou in the summer, said recent events had not changed his mind.
“For a while now I have had a determined idea and nothing changes,” he said. “Not with one trophy, or two, or three. In reality I am not bothered by [the speculation]. It seems a quite logical thing. First I was gone by Christmas, then by Easter.
“We will try to finish the season well. Tomorrow is a final, an important game. Then there will be time to analyse the season.”
Lionel Messi has also come in for media criticism after failing to make an impact against Atletico Madrid and Granada, but Martino said he had not felt the need to speak to his countryman.
“It is not for me to talk to Leo,” the former Newell’s Old Boys coach said. “He is under a lot of pressure and always comes through. You must be very brave and very honest with football to do what he does year after year. It seems a bit unfair to me for people to make judgments based on one or two games.”
Martino said he was confident that, even with the issues in defence, he was confident his side could take the trophy if they played their usual attacking game to its full potential.
“We have no problem with spirit ahead of the game,” he said. “The issue is a footballing one, and our chances depend on what football we bring. It is difficult for Barca to win if they do not play better football than their opponent. If we play our football well tomorrow, we can win the trophy.”