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May 16, 2014

Martino wants title after 'suffering'

Retiring Barcelona captain Carles Puyol has backed his former boss Louis Van Gaal to be the next Manchester United manager.

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino says his team have a chance to claim the Liga titles as "mere mortals" if they can win Saturday's make-or-break final game at home to current leaders Atletico Madrid.

• Delaney: Changing of the guard
Tomas: Barca's final push toward Liga title

Barca go into the game knowing they must win to retain the title, after a season in which they have struggled to reach the heights of previous seasons under former coaches Josep Guardiola and the late Tito Vilanova.

The Blaugrana coach said at his pregame news conference on Friday lunchtime that if they do beat Atletico on Saturday and lift the trophy, this season would be different as the previous campaigns had been so extra-special.

"This would be the first title for this team as normal people, with suffering, fighting, debates," Martino said. "The other titles were those of extra-terrestrials. I would like a lot to win the title for the effort the players have put in.

"This team has had the best history in the entire history of football. [But] this season has been inconsistent, with ups and down, without giving the best impression of Barcelona. These games do not have a clear favourite. I would say the chances are exactly equal."

La Liga's top two have played each other five times already this season, with four draws and an Atletico win which saw Barca knocked out of the Champions League quarterfinals. Martino said -- as he did before other recent meetings -- that Barca scoring first would be key.

"We have looked for different attacking alternatives against Atletico, and they have blocked up [our] best offensive play," he said. "It is a game where we need to win, but going ahead would be especially important."

Barca talisman Leo Messi -- who is to sign a new contract with the club next week -- has not yet scored against Atletico this season, something Martino said was not a concern ahead of this sixth meeting.

"Messi is the most decisive player for Barcelona, and the most decisive player in world football," he said.

Fit-again trio Neymar, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba were given medical all-clears after training on Friday morning, and included in a supersize 24-man squad for the game.

"Probably Pique, Neymar and Alba are not in the best condition, but they do not have to play six games, just one 90 minutes," Martino said. "We will see what happens, but I must point out the willpower they have had to get here and recover, taking into account that from tomorrow they are with their national teams."

Martino -- who is widely expected to leave after just one season in charge -- said that whether Barca won the title or not would have no impact on his future.

"I wish with all my soul to win tomorrow's game, for Barca to be champion," he said. "But it will have no bearing on my path because I decide what I want to do and no trophy will change that."

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