Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino says he wants his team to repeat the performance which blew Celtic away in midweek when they return to La Liga action against Villarreal at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
Barca came into Wednesday’s Champions League final group game with the mood around the club still low after recent defeats at Ajax and Athletic Bilbao. However, the Blaugrana bounced back in style with a 6-1 rout of the Scottish Champions.
Martino said he wanted a repeat performance against fifth-placed Villarreal -- who will be without key midfielders Bruno Soriano and Cani due to suspension and injury respectively -- as Barca could not afford any more slip-ups with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid so close behind in the title race.
“I hope we see the same Barca who played so well against Celtic,” Martino said. “Every La Liga game is important from here on, any error can be paid for very expensively. We are looking for a very high level of play again tomorrow, against a team with a lot of quality. Villarreal are among the sides who have played the best football in this competition. They have players who can change a game throughout their team -- even if they are missing some players.”
Martino is expected to again shuffle his pack for Saturday’s game, with fit-again Jordi Alba likely to replace the suspended Adriano Correia at left-back, while Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta are also set to return after sitting out Wednesday’s game due to suspension and a hamstring injury respectively.
Xavi Hernandez and Pedro Rodriguez could be the players to step down, while young defender Marc Bartra may replace Javier Mascherano at centre-back.
Neymar scored his first Blaugrana hat trick in midweek and Martino feels it may have eased some of the pressure he was feeling having to perform in the absence of the injured Lionel Messi.
“If those 90 minutes mean he feels more free, then good,” he said. “But we know he is used to playing with pressure, and to playing well.”
Pending contract negotiations hanging over players including Iniesta, Bartra and Martin Montoya will not enter into Martino’s selection decisions, the Barca boss claimed.
“I reckon that the players want to stay, and that the club is making an effort to renew their contracts,” he said. “I do not believe that contract negotiations affect players’ performances. For example Montoya was one of the best the other day and he has not signed his contract. What the players are most interested in is playing well on the pitch.”
Villarreal were blown away 5-0 on their last visit to the Camp Nou, on the opening day of the 2011-12 season, but were the only visiting side to avoid defeat during the 2009-10 campaign when they gained a creditable 1-1 draw.
Martino said the passing of the years was no reason why his team could not reach the heights attained under previous bosses Josep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova, and that Wednesday’s win had shown they were rediscovering their best form.
“We need to look for a level of play which gives us a chance to compete for the trophies we are going for,” he said. “We have a group of players with the same qualities as ever. The years are passing, but everyone knows that players can perform really well until they are 35. It could be that a team drops, but not for a special reason -- it could be because of a new coach, whose message does not get through, but this team can keep playing really well.”