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Gerardo Martino defends approach

Gerardo Martino has suggested that there would be less criticism of his tweaks to Barcelona’s style if he were from the Netherlands or had come through the club’s La Masia academy.

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Pundits in Catalonia were quick to notice that Rayo Vallecano had actually had more possession of the ball than Barca during Saturday’s meeting in Vallecas, as well as more shots on goal and more passes completed. As Madrid’s AS newspaper noted, it was the first time such a thing had happened in 315 games, since a defeat to Real Madrid in May 2008.

That meeting with Madrid was played before Pep Guardiola took charge of Barca, and the stats were taken as evidence that Martino was moving the team away from the tiki-taka style associated with both Pep and Tito Vilanova. This analysis followed from the recent debate around Gerard Pique’s comments on Barca’s evolving tactics this season.

However, the new coach said he was not concerned about such figures, given that Barcelona won the game 4-0 and Rayo tend to have plenty of the ball at home against all opponents. Moreover, he said, Barca’s possession stats for this season are not actually dissimilar from last term.

“There are always statistics, and you always pay attention to them, but I am more interested in them at the end of the season -- not so much now,” Martino said. “You also have to look at who you are playing. The game last season against Rayo was similar and they had the second best possession stats behind Barcelona last year. We have changed from 66% possession last season to 65.8% this year -- you cannot say we are changing everything because of 0.2% difference.”

Asked if such criticism was annoying considering Barca’s 100% record in La Liga and the Champions League so far this term, Martino said any coach coming in from outside Barca’s usual pool would face similar scrutiny.

“I am upset at nothing,” he said. “When a team has reached such a level of excellence as Barcelona, you always get these type of situations -- even more when you have a coach who is neither from the house nor Dutch. [But] long passes are not something unseen at Barcelona in the last 20 years. I mentioned Rafael Marquez before, and could also go back to Ronald Koeman.”

Things were starting to come together, he maintained, with the success against Rayo following a 4-0 victory over Ajax.

“I believe we are getting better. I would like to keep going along the way we played in the second halves against Ajax and Rayo,” Martino said. “I feel we are getting there. I see the players more comfortable each day and think we are improving all the way. We have a perfect amount of points but are not close to perfection in our performances. We can keep improving; there are a lot of things we can do better.”

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s La Liga game against Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou, Martino confirmed that Cesc Fabregas was being rested, so Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta would start.

“When you have three Spain internationals, who could all play together in some games, you want them all to feel well and happy and in good form for the whole season,” he said. “So I am making decisions based on the minutes they have played, and the characteristics of each opponent.”

Sergio Busquets returns after he was given the night off on Saturday, and should replace Alex Song in deep midfield, while one or both of last weekend’s wingers Neymar and Pedro Rodriguez could be benched despite the latter’s hat-trick against Rayo.

“We will keep studying Neymar’s minutes,” Martino said. “Since the first three games, he is the outfield player who has played most. It is very difficult to rotate someone [after a hat-trick] but it could happen...”


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