Pedro hopes to avoid Arsenal, Man City
Pedro Rodriguez says he hopes Barcelona are not drawn against either Arsenal or Manchester City in Monday’s Champions League last 16 draw.
• Ledwith: Barca and Neymar back to their best
Barca secured top spot in their Champions League group by routing Celtic 6-1 on Wednesday night at the Camp Nou, and are now set to play a second-placed finisher which could be either Arsenal, City or Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke, Galatasaray or Zenit St Petersburg.
"It would be good to avoid Arsenal and Manchester City," said Pedro, who scored his team’s second goal against the Scottish champions, ending the match as a contest well before half-time.
Blaugrana coach Gerardo Martino was more cautious when asked who he would like to face, but pointed out that knowing his next rivals two months out would help with preparations.
"I have no preference for future opponents," Martino said. "We have to see how things are in 60 days' time. The only advantage of knowing is to be able to prepare well for the games, but we have to open up other fronts now like La Liga and the Copa del Rey. What we had to do in the Champions League, we did. Now we must just wait."
Wednesday’s game was lit up by a hat trick from Neymar, with the Brazilian starlet overcoming initial doubts to tap in his first ever Champions League goal, and then proceed to terrorise the visiting defence and add two more super strikes. Martino said the treble had been richly deserved given all that the 21-year-old brought to the team.
"Neymar is getting better all the time," he said. "He needed time to adapt to playing in the centre after coming in from the wing. When he got back his confidence he started to soar. His commitment for the team, how hard he works, is astonishing. He plays with the ball at his feet, but also battles hard to win it back."
The Argentine coach also reminded everyone that Neymar has had no real break in over a year of football.
"Neymar’s football year has been very difficult, for what he did with Santos, his transfer, being the principal actor in the Confederations Cup, for having no preseason, for the travels with Brazil," Martino said. "For him the season is not halfway, it has finished, and he really needs to rest. We hope to be able to give him this rest. I hope that after the holidays [winter break] he comes back well."
The dapperly dressed attacker himself said in the mixed zone after the game that he was delighted with how the game had gone and comfortable filling in centrally for the injured Lionel Messi.
"I am really happy with the game and with the three goals," Neymar said. "I believe it was my best game for Barcelona. I had not scored for a while. I did not feel any pressure, but I knew I had to score. I do not mind where I play, I feel comfortable on the wing or in the centre. I just want to help the team. But we still miss Messi and want him to return."