Gerardo Martino has confirmed that Neymar is fully fit to return, while claiming the Brazilian attacker has not been affected by the ongoing controversy about his transfer to Barcelona last summer.
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After almost a month on the sidelines with an ankle injury Neymar received a medical all clear from Barca’s medics on Friday morning, and was named in the squad for Saturday’s La Liga game at home to Rayo Vallecano.
The Blaugrana boss told his news conference after Friday morning’s training at the Camp Nou that the 21 year old was ready to make a comeback, although he had not yet decided who would start the game.
“[Neymar] has recovered really well, you see in training he is ready to be let off the leash,” Martino said. “We still have to see how he does in competitive game, but he is now one of those competing for a place. This is a very difficult game in which we must take the points. We will decide tomorrow.”
The Argentine coach said he did not think the controversy surrounding the former Santos attacker’s transfer to the Camp Nou last summer, which has included legal cases in both Spain and Madrid and Barca president Sandro Rosell resigning, was affecting the youngster's work day to day.
“I do not see him as player affected by all these issues which have nothing to do with football,” Martino said. “In no moment did I see his mood drop it did not affect his recovery.”
Martino did confirm that Xavi Hernandez, who reportedly is again feeling some discomfort in his calf muscle, would miss Saturday’s game, while saying that Lionel Messi had been suffering from flu during Wednesday’s 1-1 Copa del Rey game at Real Sociedad but had recovered fully now.
The current Primera Division leaders' boss denied he would be making any major changes against Rayo, even with Tuesday’s clutch Champions League last 16 first leg at Manchester City looming.
“For six or seven months we rotated as we thought best,” Martino said. “Now there will be less changes, these are decisive moments. It is normal that people talk about the Champions League games, as this is the most equal tie of the last 16. But we are totally focused on tomorrow’s game, on defending our top spot in the table, even more after dropping points against Valencia and then the game at Sevilla. Nothing can distract us from tomorrow’s game.”
Martino had praise for Rayo coach Paco Jemez, whose progressive footballing approach saw Rayo edge the possession stats when the teams met in Vallecas earlier in the season, although Barca won out easy 4-0 winners.
“[Jemez] seems to me a very brave coach,” he said. “I admire all coaches who go looking for the opposition, even more with squads not rich with individuals. He has shown personality to keep insisting his team play the same way even though they are not doing well in the table. I admire that.”