Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino says that having Carles Puyol back fit again is a great joy, as the club captain returns alongside Javier Mascherano and Lionel Messi for Saturday’s La Liga game at Osasuna.
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Messi and Mascherano are expected to come straight back into the team after overcoming recent muscle issues, while Puyol is more likely to be on the bench given it is his first call-up after seven months out with a serious knee injury.
However, Martino told reporters at Friday’s prematch news conference that he might even start the 35-year-old centre-back at the weekend.
"If I include a player in the squad it is because he can play,” Martino said. “He is ready to take part in the game. It is a great joy for all of us to have Puyol back. And even more for him. He was more worried in recent times.”
Saturday’s game begins a spell of seven matches in 23 days for Barca, including a Champions League tie at AC Milan on Tuesday and then the Liga Clasico at home to Real Madrid the following Saturday.
Martino, though, said his focus for the moment is firmly on the game at El Sadar -- where Barca lost 3-2 two seasons ago, and were trailing 1-0 last term before Messi’s late double won them the game.
“I do not want to lose focus on this game at Osasuna,” he said. “It is the first game after a fortnight, with 13 or 14 players who have been away with their national teams. I give importance to all games, from the first day to the last day.
“This is a very important week, but not a decisive week. We are centred on the problems we could have against Osasuna. From there we can think about the other games.”
Dani Alves, Alexis Sanchez and Gerard Pique have nevertheless been excused the trip to Pamplona, as Martino continues his rotation policy aimed at keeping all his squad fresh and happy.
“It is just about rotation, players who have played a lot of minutes,” he said. “There is no medical reason for them being out. They have also been with their national teams.
“Gerard played a lot of minutes already this season. He has had some discomfort before the international break, but he told me that if he needed to play he could play. It is more just about giving them a rest for tomorrow’s game.”
Neymar’s inclusion in the squad, despite having travelled with Alves to China for Brazil’s two friendly games last week, has nothing to do with whether Messi is able to play 90 minutes or not, Martino said.
“[Neymar] had a rest against Almeria before the international break,” he said. “It is true that he had a long journey, but he did not play as much as Dani did.”