Martino: Lionel Messi ready for Clasico
ESPN FC: A point apiece at San Siro
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino feels Lionel Messi’s performance in the 1-1 draw at AC Milan shows he is fit and ready for Saturday’s Clasico against Real Madrid.
Messi completed his first 90 minutes in almost a month at the San Siro and got on the scoresheet with a well-taken strike from inside the area, but also struggled at times to make an impact against the massed ranks of Milan’s defence.
Nonetheless, Martino told reporters after the game that the forward had played well and his thigh problem was now behind him.
“[Messi] looked fine to me,” Martino said. “He got the equaliser for us. He played with speed, intensity, looking for one-on-ones. With Cesc [Fabregas] on the pitch, he played on the wing and did it well. I believe there is now no doubt about his physical condition. He is over his injury.”
Following the 0-0 draw with Osasuna in La Liga, Barca have now drawn twice in four days after having won their previous ten games in all competitions -- but Martino said he did not think the team had started to stutter ahead of Saturday's clash with Madrid at the Camp Nou.
“I always say you must separate the result and the analysis,” he said. “We are coming into the game after two draws, which is not the best, but I believe our performances are still improving.
“We give few options to our opponents. We are lacking a fine touch and speed, but playing against opponents who sit back 25 yards out is difficult. I am not concerned about the group’s performances, although I would have liked to win the last two games.”
Blaugrana captain Xavi Hernandez told his club’s official website that, after a slow start against Milan, Barca had dominated the game, and were now set up well for Saturday’s clash with their big domestic rivals.
“With the exception of the first 15 minutes, when we conceded a goal, we dominated and we created chances to score, [but] we were lacking in front of goal,” he said. “We are in good shape coming into the Clasico. We are playing well.”
Barca defender Gerard Pique, who was outmuscled by Milan attacker Robinho for the game’s opening goal, added that his side could make a huge step towards retaining the league title should they win the weekend’s game.
“The Clasico is a different kind of match, and even more so this year, because the title has been between the two teams over the last couple of seasons,” Pique said. “It can mark a turning point in the season. If we win, we will be six points clear.”