Xavi, Iniesta facing Clasico bench role
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has hinted he may leave either Xavi or Andres Iniesta on the bench for Saturday's Clasico against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou.
With centre-half Gerard Pique passed fit and included in the squad for the game, Martino’s biggest decision is now whether to bring Cesc Fabregas back into the team, and if so whether to leave out one of his other World Cup-winning midfielders.
The Argentine admitted at Friday evening’s pre-game news conference that he had already made the call in his head, and given Barca's squad depth he sometimes had to be unfair to some individuals.
"There is a possibility that the three could play the game, or one could be left out, as always," Martino said. "I had the team for the game decided before Milan. Players who have that level, it is not usual, they would not be left out of any other team. But this is Barca, so if Iniesta plays, Cesc is out, or if Xavi plays, Iniesta is out, or the three play and you leave out a wide attacker.
"They are all good. So you have to leave a good player out. I would like them to change the rules so we could put in one more. But without that you need to leave one out. It can be closer to unfair than to being fair."
Martino said he was aware that Barca had been caught on the break by Madrid in recent meetings, but his team would continue to take risks and try to minimise the danger when they did lose the ball high up the pitch.
"We want to have lots of possession, play good football, and play close to their area," he said. "For that Madrid might have space to break into. When a team has spaces, and attackers like Ronaldo, Bale, Di Maria and Benzema, you run risks. So we must take on those risks, as has always happened. But we must minimise them. The biggest problem we can have is losing the ball as we are building moves, because then they can counter and you are left open."
Barca go into the game three points ahead of their rivals, with the chance to open up a useful six-point lead with a victory, or for Madrid to haul them back level. However Martino said the morale blow or boost of losing a Clasico was more important than just the three points on offer.
"It is an important game, but at the start of the season," he said. "It may have more importance for the numbers, or for the weight of winning or losing against your big rival. The numbers are easier to get back in the next games."
The former Paraguay and Newell’s Old Boys manager suggested his personal challenge in taking charge of Barcelona was more difficult than that facing recently installed Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti.
"These are different situations," Martino said. "It is my first time at a European institution as prestigious as Barca. Ancelotti is used to this -- he has done it in Italy, England and France. Having taken over this squad, we are trying to do as well as possible here."
Asked by an Argentine journalist if his experience with Newells in derbies against Rosario Central was preparation, Martino said it was not really.
"There are Clasicos all over the world, but it is difficult for them to generate the same expectations as a Barcelona against Madrid," he said. "This is the first time for this type of Clasico, for what it represents, and the media around it. There is great excitement for us, as for all Barcelonismo, ahead of the game."