Lionel Messi may have relinquished his four-year grip on the Ballon d’Or on Monday, but he remains the best player in the world, according to his Barcelona coach “Tata” Martino. Messi will be involved on the pitch for the first time since losing his crown to Cristiano Ronaldo when Barcelona take a 4-0 lead into the second leg of their Copa del Rey last-16 tie with Getafe in Madrid. And Martino says that it is team honors that truly motivate his fellow-Argentine.
“First of all, I’d like to congratulate Cristiano, of course, and everyone else who won something that night,” he began, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “It’s a very important award and puts an extra shine on a season for a player. However, I don’t lose sight of my beliefs because of an award. Being the best footballer in the world is one thing, winning an award is another thing. And we have the best player in the world right here. But all he [Messi] wants is that things to go well for Barcelona and Argentina. I don’t think he’ll be worrying too much about the Ballon d’Or.”
Messi was again restricted to a role off the bench in Saturday’s goalless draw with Atletico Madrid -- his second appearance since returning from two months out with a hamstring injury. And it is expected that he will again begin among the substitutes on Thursday. Neymar may be given his first start of 2014, however, having recovered from a stomach illness. Martino is taking the opportunity to rest Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba ahead of Sunday’s La Liga encounter at Levante, who also await the winners of the tie, but is insistent that the team will not be complacent.
“I don’t expect that to happen, this team has never played a match with caution after the first leg,” he said. “We want to play as if the first leg ended 0-0.”
The match will be a significant one for Xavi, with the midfield great set to make his 700th competitive appearance on Monday. The 33-year-old has been strongly linked with a move to the New York Red Bulls after this summer’s World Cup, but he has reiterated his desire to end his career where it started -- at the Camp Nou.
“It makes me proud to have played so many games,” he explained. Barca is the best club you can play for. I want to get to 800 or more [games]. I’ve experienced the best and the worst of times in Barca’s history. We had the five-year drought and then we experienced a period of success with the treble, the six trophies and two Champions Leagues.”
Getafe come into the match on the back of a woeful run of form that has seen them lose four games in a row in all competitions. Just one win and six defeats in their last eight La Liga matches has seen them drop down to 11th in the table. Coach Luis Garcia is setting an initial target to get a win on the night in the second leg, but will have to do so without right-back Juan Valera and midfielder Pedro Mosquera.
Where to watch: The second leg of the Copa del Rey round-of-16 tie will kick off at 4 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sports, with a live stream available on beIN Sports Play.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.