World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has been named in new Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino’s squad for the champions’ opening La Liga game against Levante tonight.
Messi had missed Argentina’s friendly victory over Italy on Wednesday due to a quadriceps strain, but returned to training on Friday. Martino confirmed that both he and Cesc Fabregas – who also missed Spain’s victory over Ecuador in midweek due to injury – will be fit to play.
“Both players have trained almost normally so they shouldn’t have any problem in playing,” he said at a press conference yesterday.
Martino also confirmed that he has advised the club not to sign a central defender before the transfer window shuts on September 2.
The Catalans have been linked with Chelsea’s David Luiz and Liverpool’s Daniel Agger in recent weeks, but Martino is confident that, barring a number of injuries, they have the cover required at the back.
“I know the club was looking for a central defender before I arrived. What I said to them was that (Carles) Puyol is recuperating well, with (Gerard) Pique, (Javier) Mascherano, (Marc) Bartra and even Adriano and (Sergio) Busquets, we are fine.
“If there are any injuries, then we have the winter transfer market.”
Despite Puyol’s progress after having knee surgery in July, the 35-year-old is not expected to be back in action before September.
Fans to witness Neymar debut
The debate over Barca’s defensive frailties has almost over-shadowed the eagerly-awaited La Liga debut of their new 57 million euro signing Neymar, and how he might link up with Messi.
The young Brazil forward is set to form part of a fearsome frontline at the Nou Camp and could get his first competitive run out against Levante.
“It is hard to imagine someone with the quality of Neymar not adding what Barcelona needs,” said Martino, with Neymar expected to help take the pressure off Messi up front.
“He is an amazing player, he is very good one-on-one. He has played well with the team and with Messi so far, and they feel comfortable together in training.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2013.