Martino: I’m not concerned with the Champions League right now
Barcelona manager Tata Martino insists he and his team are fully focused on Saturday’s encounter with Rayo Vallecano and preserving their leadership of La Liga, before they begin to think about Manchester City and the Champions League.
At his pre-match press conference on Friday, ahead of hosting Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, Barcelona manager Tata Martino was immediately presented questions about next week’s Champions League clash with Manchester City. He didn’t want to address that game now though, preferring to focus on what lies directly ahead.
“It’s only natural that there’s talk about the Champions League, because it’s possibly the most evenly matched game of the teams paired in the last sixteen of the competition. I’m not concerned with that right now though, because we’re fully focused on the game tomorrow. Losing against Valencia hurt a lot, it was hard for us to recover against Sevilla and nothing should distract us from the game tomorrow.”
Although Barcelona ran out 0-4 winners away at Vallecas in the first half of the season, what made the headlines was the fact that Rayo had the stronger percentage of possession. Asked if that will be a consideration this time at the Camp Nou and what is the biggest difference for his side now, Martino offered some irony with his responses.
“Fine, it depends on which media you looked at, because not all of them had written us off. It will be interesting to see which team has the better of the possession this time. What’s changed since then? Now we have around 78% of possession. That’s how the team has changed, which is fine, it’s good.”
Martino was also asked for his thoughts about Rayo manager Paco Jémez, who stubbornly sticks with the aim of playing good football, even though his side have struggled in La Liga this season.
“My impression of him is of the highest regard. He’s very courageous. I’m an admirer of those who try to offer and look for much more, from a team that isn’t amongst the richest when it comes to individuals, as well as his character to persist with his approach, taking into account that they’re in the relegation zone. That gives me great admiration for him.”
With Neymar training well and virtually recovered from his ankle sprain, the Barca coach was asked if he’ll feature on Saturday against Rayo, as well as if that will be a test as to whether he’ll feature against Manchester City.
“He’s trained very well and now he has to compete with everyone else. Everyone is competing very well and then it’s up to me to decide who starts for each game. I refuse to talk about matches being a test. We have to win the game to maintain our leadership of La Liga. Tomorrow, we’ll decide how we introduce Neymar.”
With his former club Santos having pursued legal channels for access to the contract of Neymar with Barcelona, Martino was then asked if the young Brazilian has shown any signs of being distracted by the ongoing headlines in the media over his transfer.
“He’s always looked fine to me. At no point has his morale looked affected, nor has he been slack during his recovery. He doesn’t look affected by these issues that have nothing to do with his football.”
With the game against Manchester City in the Champions League just around the corner, even though Martino had indicated he didn’t want to talk about that yet, he did respond to one question as to whether he’ll line up with Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and Fàbregas in the starting eleven.
Against Real Madrid, that’s how we played, albeit with a different shape. I’ll never rule anything out and even less when I can work with such really good and flexible players.”
Asked if he felt that he and his team have now reached the most crucial point of the season, the moment of truth, Martino responded in typically ironic fashion.
“How fortunate we must be that the moment of truth has come now for us… Even though I felt like it started eight months ago!”
Following much speculation about his own future at the club, Martino simply explained that it’s not something they’ve had time to talk about internally, but suggested that when they have more time to do so, he’ll likely be sitting down with Andoni Zubizarreta to discuss his future.
“Now isn’t the right time. There will be weeks ahead when there’s less games to play, so maybe then will be the right time.”
Finally, over images observed of Lionel Messi vomiting at Anoeta against Real Sociedad in midweek, Martino pointed out that the player had flu and that that was the cause.
“Messi had a touch of the flu, but nothing worrying. I learned that he had flu and saw him coughing, but it wasn’t anything serious enough to keep him out of the team.”