Martino: Messi will keep playing
Barcelona manager Tata Martino assured that Lionel Messi is more than fit enough, that he can keep playing in the team ahead of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey quarter-final first-leg match at Levante, whilst also making it clear that if the Argentine star needs to be rested at any point, he will be.
Ahead of the second trip to Levante in a matter of just a few short days since the 1-1 La Liga draw at the weekend, though this time in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday night, Barcelona manager Tata Martino noted that their opponents have made changes to their squad, but he expects just as difficult a challenge at the Ciutat de Vàlencia.
“Levante have named a different squad, but we’re expecting practically the same we experienced in the last game. We’ve spoken about the ways we can break the defensive solidity of Levante. We caused them more harm in the second half, whilst in the first half we had more difficulty. Opponents play how they can and how they want to. It’s up to us to solve any problems presented to us.”
Martino also confirmed that Andrés Iniesta will not feature in the squad for Wednesday’s game, explaining that the midfielder still needs more time to get back into shape, following his injury.
“Iniesta is still doing different work. He hasn’t looked good in the last few training sessions and I think he still needs a bit more work, before he can be considered ready. We’re at a decisive stage of the season and we don’t want to take any chances with injuries.”
With attention at the press conference then turning to a chink in the Barcelona armour, that of conceding from set-pieces, Martino referred to a lack of height in the team as being a contributing factor, but doesn’t see too deep a problem.
“In reality I don’t agree that it’s a historic problem, because I’m not one to refer to things that have happened when I wasn’t the manager. We’re not going to change the way we mark opponents. We have a problem with our shorter players and we still suffer, but we’re trying to be the most solid we can, so that we don’t concede these chances.”
As for making the most of opportunities in offensive situations from set-pieces, Martino pointed out that it’s not the traditional Barca way, with the team focusing more on scoring from open play, than from set-pieces.
“If there comes a day where we think we can win games because of set-pieces, rather than open play, then we’ll have less chances.”
When Barcelona do have attacking set-pieces, particularly direct free-kicks, Martino acknowledged that his team haven’t made the most of their opportunities from those situations of late.
“It’s a minus point we have again. At the start of the season we were scoring from outside the area. Those teams that find it easy from set-pieces, are those that have good takers and good finishers.”
As for the drawn games against Atlético Madrid and Levante, the Argentine coach doesn’t see any lasting problems, or any indication that the team have dipped in form.
“I prefer to think more positively. I’d like to think that after these two draws and playing the same way, we will have more chances of winning than drawing. My thoughts today are completely positive.”
With Lionel Messi now firing on all cylinders once more, when asked if he will be used more sparingly, Martino simply explained that his fitness and performance level will be assessed, in exactly the same way as any other player in the squad.
“Messi will keep playing and at the time we think he needs a rest, we’ll do that. Right now, he’s like any other player in the squad. We shouldn’t be thinking of him as a player who has just got back from an injury. He’s had a gradual process getting back into the team.”
As such, when it comes to making rotations in the Copa del Rey, Martino assured that he’s remaining with the same methodology of choosing his teams, irrespective of the competitions. He also pointed out that none of the changes he makes for Wednesday’s game, are a reflection of the draw against Levante at the weekend.
“The idea remains for the players to keep in good shape through to the end of the season and in now way is there anything that forces me to change that idea. If we couldn’t win at Levante and had the idea of not changing, that’s how it would be. There’s nothing that forces me to change things because of the result and less so if it’s not accompanied by a step footballing step back.”
Asked for his opinions on the proposed remodelling of the Camp Nou stadium, Martino suggested that he’s not the best placed person to add to that debate.
“I’ve not been here long enough to say if I think remodelling the Camp Nou is a good idea or not. That’s a matter for the socios to decide.”
Finally, regarding the comments of Javier Faus and the bridges built after the apparent war of words over increased terms for Lionel Messi, the Barcelona manager simply believes that more was being made of the matter than necessary, but was satisfied that there was no longer any issue.
“I didn’t see the press conference yesterday. I think Faus clarified the matter with Leo, or apologised, which is fine if it brings them closer together.”