Not only did Barcelona win the battle of the summer signings, with Neymar scoring and having much greater influence on the first El Clasico game of the season, but Tata Martino got the better of his opposite number at Real Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti. It was the first experience of this most highly charged of derbies for both bosses, and Tata will certainly have enjoyed it more.
There are lots of players from FC Barcelona on international duty, as usual, with the notable exception being Lionel Messi, who has been excused from the two Argentina games in order to fully recover from his niggling thigh problem. There was an injury scare yesterday when it was reported that Neymar had a problem and had to miss training for Brazil, but thankfully he is fine, and he played and scored against South Korea today.
Still without the club captain and central defender Carles Puyol, Barcelona also had to cope without the star striker Lionel Messi at the other end, so it was a big test for the players chosen to take their place, Marc Bartra and Neymar. Both youngsters came through the game against Valladolid with flying colours, so they, the manager and the Barca fans will feel a lot better about the season to come going in to the international break.
One of the most notable features of the new Barcelona manager’s reign has been his willingness, and even insistence on rotating some of his key players. So early in the season, none of the Barca players are in immediate danger of suffering any fatigue or burnout, but Tata Martino knows there is a long season ahead.
Also, it is better for the team to get used to being rested occasionally, so it is no surprise to hear that Tata is planning to drop Xavi Hernandez back to the bench for tonight’s Champions League opening game against Ajax Amsterdam at the Camp Nou. Cesc Fabregas will replace the 33-year old, which is good news for the former Arsenal man who apparently felt he was overlooked for the important games last season.
Barcelona were seconds away from losing their 100 percent record in La Liga this season, but a goal by Alexis in the fourth minute of stoppage time rescued all three points and saved Barca blushes. They should never have got into that position in the first place.
Brcelona dominated the game without killing off Sevilla. We didn’t cretae as many chances as usual, but it should still have been enough to put the game out of sight. Dani Alves headed the opener in the first half, and Neymar set Messi up to get the second after 75 minutes. Sevilla, however, came to life and the defensive problems of the club were exposed again when Rakitic scored after 80 minutes before Koke seemed to have stolen a draw in the 90th minute.
The only way that Fabregas could have had a better game for Barcelona on Sunday was if he had scored. He had plenty of chances, but always chose to pass. This was not because Cesc was lacking in confidence or was passing the responsibility, thoigh, it was because every time he passed it was to a player in a better position to score. It was the most selfless performance I have seen in a long time.
Just at the time when FC Barcelona need all their best players fit and ready for a frantic start to the season, Tata Martino the manager is being faced with a bit of a selection nightmare. The problem is made wors because of the two-legged Spanish Supercup against Atletico Madrid. That means that the club face five tough games in the first couple of weeks.
There is still a doubt over the fitness of the best player in the world Lionel Messi, so I am sure that Martino will not risk him until he is fully fit. That is one of the reasons that Barcelona pushed through the transfer of the young Brazilian star Neymar from Santos this summer.
After his big move to FC Barcelona this summer, followed by a Player of the Tournament award as Brazil lifted the Confederations Cup, Neymar’s head must have been spinning recently. Add to that an operation and the discovery that the 21-year old is suffering from anaemia, and you could forgive Neymar for being a bit off colour.
The new Barcelona striker will, therefore, be delighted and relieved to get off the mark with his new club. Having been floored by the ball hitting him in the face from the keeper’s clearance, Neymar picked himself up to score the first of seven Barcelona goals against Thailand in yesterday’s pre-season friendly.