Gerard Martino is refusing to get carried away with the chance to ensure Barcelona’s best ever start to a league season. A win at Almeria on Saturday would make it seven-straight wins to start the campaign, Martino’s first since taking charge. But, instead the Argentinian is focused on the overall objectives.
“Winning seven out of seven wouldn’t mean much if we don’t end up winning the league,” he said, according to Barcelona’s official website. “I’m more worried about where we’ll be next May.”
Martino has displayed his determination to ensure that Barcelona are still firing on all cylinders come the crucial climax to the season with his decision to rotate players in the opening weeks. Lionel Messi and Neymar were both taken off in the second half of a comfortable 4-1 win over Real Sociedad in midweek, with the Argentinian forward appearing less than pleased to have his match curtailed. But Martino has defended his policy.
“Leo and Neymar don't like being taken off,” he said, reports Marca. “Andres [Iniesta], Xavi and Cesc [Fabregas] don't like to be sitting on the bench. I was hired to take decisions and I'm going to continue rotating players. They will understand".
"I think Leo is doing fine. I can't compare him with other seasons. He's in good condition and has regained strength. Although he didn't score against Rayo [Vallecano], it was his most complete match.”
Fabregas was completely rested from the squad in midweek, but comes back into contention to face Almeria. Javier Mascherano misses out, however, through injury, with Marc Barta set to come in. Captain Carles Puyol played in a practice match this week as he continues his return, but Martino revealed that he won’t be fit to play for the first-team until after the international break in the middle of next month.
While Barcelona have done nothing but win so far this season, Almeria have yet to taste victory in their opening six matches. No one could accuse the side that finished third in the Segunda Division last season of been anything less than entertaining on their return to the top flight, however. Indeed before Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Malaga, Almeria had scored twice in all five of their matches. The problem is at the other end, where their defense has been breached 15 times to date.
D: Rafita, Trujillo, Pellerano, Fernandez
M: Verza, Tebar
Vidal, Soriano, Suso
D: Daniel Alves, Pique, Bartra, Adriano
M: Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Pedro, Messi, Neymar
Prediction: With a trip to take on Celtic in the Champions League to come on Tuesday, Martino is likely to rotate his side. Xavi could well sit this one out. Martino will hope to have the result of the match settled early so further players cane be rested and, against an Almeria side so generous at the back, he is likely to get his wish. Barcelona continue to show sloppiness at the back, but going forward they could overwhelm Francisco Rodriguez’s side.
Prediction: Almeria 1-5 Barcelona
Where to watch: The Spanish Primera Division encounter will kick-off at noon ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream available on beIN Sport Play.