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Feb 21, 2014

Martino: Neymar focused amid saga

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday that he was expecting "a very difficult match" against Europa League-chasing Real Sociedad.

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino says he does not feel that Neymar is being affected by the continuing controversy around his transfer to the club last summer.

• Barca confident of Neymar resolution

Barca were this week officially charged with a potential “tax fraud” of 9.1 million euros relating to the deal, while Neymar himself went on Instagram on Wednesday night to strongly defend his father’s role in the transfer amid a war of words with his former club Santos in Brazil.

After almost a month out with an ankle injury, the 86.2 million euro signing returned to action against Rayo Vallecano last weekend.

Neymar Barcelona vs Manchester City
Neymar has returned from injury and may start his first Liga match of 2014 against Real Sociedad.

He scored a spectacular goal as a substitute, and then claimed an assist when introduced late in Tuesday’s 2-0 Champions League last 16 first leg at Manchester City, looking fit and ready to start Barca’s La Liga game at Real Sociedad on Saturday evening.

Asked if all the noise was affecting the 22-year-old’s state of mind, the Blaugrana coach said Neymar was training and playing as normal despite the unusual situation.  

“From what you see from training and when [Neymar] plays I would he is not affected,” Martino said. “It is also true that sometimes these processes are inside. You could feel injustice or surprise.

“He looks normal to me when I see him. But it is not normal at a sporting institution for the president to have to leave and everything else that is happening. Speaking for myself I have become accustomed to all the noise around the club.”

Martino has named the strongest available 18-man squad for Saturday's game, with just Jordi Alba injured [hamstring], and Carles Puyol, Sergi Roberto and Ibrahim Affelay not making the cut.

Adriano Correia is likely to replace Alba at left-back at Anoeta, but Martino said that other changes to his XI would be minimal -- while saying it was possible that Neymar could start in a three-man front line with Lionel Messi and either Alexis Sanchez or Pedro Rodriguez.

“When [Messi and Neymar] have played together they have played well,” he said. “I know there are a lot of expectations to see them playing together, but we must think about the group. When we play with three out and out forwards, it is much more difficult to control the game.

“They all like to go into spaces, to take people on in one-on-ones. With an extra midfielder the team runs less. It is not so much about the team evolving, but more that we decide to play certain players in certain games.”

Blaugrana president Josep Maria Bartomeu said on Thursday that the club could soon start talking about extending Martino’s contract, which currently runs until the end of the 2014-15 campaign. But the Argentine coach said he was not thinking about this subject right now, and had not even begun considering what he would do next season.

“[A new contract] is the last thing I am thinking about at the moment,” Martino said. “We will see about that later. The most important thing is to focus on the 21 games we could have left this season.

“We have not had any meetings [about the future], and I will not be commenting on this until the end of the season. Neither victories nor defeats will affect my decision.”

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