Neymar not expected to replace Messi
Gerardo Martino says Neymar must develop into his own player and not try to copy Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi.
With Messi absent through injury, summer signing Neymar played perhaps his best game so far for Barcelona in Tuesday night’s 1-0 Champions League victory at Celtic, and particularly impressed in the second half when playing more centrally, in a position usually filled by the Argentine.
Martino told his post-training news conference at Friday lunchtime that, while nothing seemed to faze the 21-year-old Brazilian, it was not a case of anybody copying anybody else.
“Even though he is very young, Neymar is used to taking on the load of more experienced players,” he said. “Each player does what they can, in accordance with their own possibilities. Neymar does not need to fill the hole left by Messi. Thinking about one player stepping into the shoes of another does not interest me.”
Martino did not reveal whether Neymar, Cesc Fabregas or Alexis Sanchez would be Barca’s central attacker in Saturday’s La Liga game at home to Real Valladolid.
"[Neymar] can play as a centre-forward -- we will see that maybe tomorrow, or another time,” he said. “We know that, with Leo’s injury, Neymar, Alexis and Cesc can come in, with their different characteristics.”
Martino said no decision had yet been made on whether Messi and Argentina teammate Javier Mascherano would travel to South America for next week’s World Cup qualifiers.
“Leo and Mascherano have injuries, as the Argentina medical staff can know,” he said. “We do not know if they want to travel. Neither Messi nor Mascherano have a medical all-clear, but the decision is with Argentina.”
He said that, nonetheless, the “break in competition will be good” for Messi.
Asked whether Alexis would also have to step up given Messi’s injury, Martino took the opportunity to point out that the Chilean winger -- who provided the assist for Barca’s winner at Celtic -- was often unfairly singled out for criticism by Catalan pundits.
“When he does not play a good game, there is a lot of criticism,” he said. “And when he does well and gives a good assist like the other day, nobody says anything. Sometimes I am surprised at how harshly people criticise him. He should just play like Alexis Sanchez and not try to copy anyone else.”
Martino said he hoped that Barcelona built on their performance at Celtic Park, hailed on the night as their best so far this season, against Valladolid on Saturday evening.
“We must confirm what we did in Glasgow, and not take a step back with our play,” he said. “I expect us to repeat that good performance against Valladolid and for us to win the game.”