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Nov 25, 2013

Martino not focused on Pep's record

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino says he is just concentrating on winning Tuesday’s Champions League game at Ajax rather than matching Pep Guardiola’s club record unbeaten start to the season.

Gerardo Martino is concentrating on winning trophies in his debut season.
Gerardo Martino is concentrating on winning trophies in his debut season.

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Barca are currently one result away from equalling the mark set by Guardiola’s side during the 2011-12 campaign, when they began the season by avoiding defeat in their first 21 games.

The Argentine coach deflected a question about the record at his prematch news conference in Amsterdam on Monday evening, saying that for him what really mattered was trophies won at the end of the year.

“I would like more to equal the record of the six trophies that ended up in the club’s cabinet,” Martino said in reference to silverware won under Guardiola in 2009. “A record tomorrow would not really mean anything.”

Avoiding defeat would give Barca the point they need to ensure top spot in the group, but Martino said he was only thinking about taking all three from the match.

“A draw would be enough,” Martino said, “but our intention is always to win every game.”

Martino has welcomed back playmaker Xavi Hernandez from a hamstring injury, but Alexis Sanchez is suspended and full-back Adriano Correia has been added to a lengthy injury list, which also includes talisman Lionel Messi and first choice goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

Veteran backup goalkeeper Jose Pinto is sure to play in place of Valdes, while a lack of natural left-backs means that club captain Carles Puyol or Marc Bartra could play out of position, with Martino also suggesting that Barca B’s Patric Gabarron -- more naturally a midfielder -- was another option.

“There could be a change of roles required,” he said. “One of the centre-halves could move to full-back. Or maybe Patric could play.”

Barca’s fitness issues are such that Patric’s fellow youth teamers Adama Traore, Jean Marie Dongou and Sergi Gomez have also travelled with the squad to Amsterdam, but Martino can still field a strong starting side, with six Spanish World Cup winners and 65-million-euro summer signing Neymar all still available.

Ajax’s 1-0 win over Celtic last time out kept them in the race to qualify for the knockout stages, and even a point would leave their fate in their own hands ahead of the group’s final games.

Frank de Boer’s youthful side caused Barca some problems before ultimately losing 4-0 at the Camp Nou in September, and Martino said he expected the Dutch champions to again put on a display in keeping with the club’s illustrious history.

“Ajax do great work with their youth system -- they always turn out good footballers, who treat the ball well,” he said. “They will be a really difficult opponent. Seeing the photographs of ex-Ajax players in the corridors of this stadium, you see those who were responsible for Barca’s style.”

The former Paraguay and Newell’s Old Boys boss said it was a lot to expect his side to play in the manner of Johan Cruyff and Guardiola’s best sides considering all the current absentees, but that did not mean his expectations had dropped.

“To reach such a level of superior beauty, we need Xavi, Leo, Jordi [Alba] and Victor,” he said. “With them we would be more sure of ourselves. Without Messi, we lose the best player in the world, and that always causes a difficulty. But there are no excuses.”

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