Martino firm on Fabregas, coy on Luiz
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has said he expects Manchester United target Cesc Fabregas to stay at the Catalan club for the coming season, while declining to speak about a possible €40 million bid lodged with Chelsea for centre-half David Luiz.
Martino was talking to reporters after Barcelona’s 7-1 pre-season friendly win over a Thailand XI in Bangkok, a game which saw new €57 million attacker Neymar score his first blaugrana goal, Pedro Rodriguez grab a hat-trick and Leo Messi score twice.
Given the ease of the win, there was a focus afterwards on Barca’s potential transfer activity in the coming days, but the new boss gave little away with his answers.
“[Fabregas] continues to be with us, and he will stay with us this season,” Martino said when asked about Fabregas.
“I am in Thailand, I do not know about negotiations which might be taking place,” was the Argentine manager's answer to a question about Brazi international Luiz, who Barca made an official move for on Wednesday morning according to Mundo Deportivo.
The Catalan giants reported £35 million bid for Luiz is in part a concern to the fitness of veteran Carles Puyol, Martino admitting 35-year-old may not be fit for the start of the season.
“Right now I'm more worried about whether Puyol will recover,” he told AS.
Barca had strolled through the game from start to finish, with Neymar, Messi [a penalty] and Pedro scoring inside 19 minutes, and Messi and Pedro each grabbing another before the break.
Teerasil Dangda got one back for Thailand after a penalty was harshly awarded against young blaugrana defender Frank Bangnack just before the break. Pedro completed his treble from a superb Fabregas pass soon after half-time, with Alexis Sanchez - one of ten second half substitutes - completing the scoring.
Even with the weak opposition ‘Tata’ said he had seen evidence that Barca’s players were following his instructions to press quicker and higher up the pitch than they had done in recent times.
“Independently of the opponent, we are showing some signs in the recovery of the ball, high pressure and immediate attack which have left me pretty satisfied,” he said. “All this apart from the goalscoring power which was normal given our quality and that of the opponent.”
Neymar’s performance during his 45 minutes on the pitch showed that he was well on the road to recovery from the recent bout of anaemia which had seen the already slight Brazilian reportedly lose seven kilogrammes, said Martino.
"Friendly games of this type are useful to me to see different variants and possibilities, but without doubt he is progressing,” he said. “As the days have passed, he has felt better. There has been improvement from the first game against Santos [last Friday].”
And Martino was also impressed with the budding relationship between the club's new signing and Lionel Messi.
“They combined well and played in different areas of the pitch,” Martino said. “The connection between Neymar and Leo was the most interesting thing about the game and they played as well as we expected.
“They combined well and scored goals, but they also combined with other players, which is what you expect at this level.”
The only slight negative for Barca was Pedro limping from the pitch before the end, with the club confirming in a statement afterwards that the Spanish international had picked up a calf strain and was a doubt for the club’s next friendly - against a Malaysian XI in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday afternoon.
Information from the Press Association was used in this report.