Barca name strong Copa del Rey squad
Gerardo Martino has named a strong squad for Barcelona’s Copa del Rey last 32 first leg at minnows Cartagena on Friday, while saying a good result in the game would help lift his players after two painful defeats.
• Ledwith: Loss to Bilbao comes with silver linings
Fit again Jordi Alba and Carles Puyol have been included in Barca’s 17-man travelling party, with Xavi Hernandez [calf] and Andres Iniesta [hamstring] left out due to minor injury issues and Gerard Pique rested.
However Martino has decided against making wholesale changes, with just two non first team youngsters [Jean Marie Dongou and Adama Traore] called up, and senior internationals Neymar, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano all included.
The Argentine coach told his pre-game press conference that the game against the Segunda B side was of extra importannce considering Barca were coming off surprise defeats at Ajax in the Champions League and Athletic Bilbao in La Liga which had led to a mood of pessimism among Blaugrana fans and pundits.
"Tomorrow’s game is of vital importance," Martino said. "It can help us recover our good mood after two successive defeats. There are now two options -- either the pessimism damages us or makes us stronger. We know we are playing against a team from the third tier, but we must do our work to try and win, because that is what we live for."
Previous Blaugrana coaches Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova often used early round Copa games to blood Barca B youngsters, but Martino is set to use the games to give minutes to senior squad players such as Alex Song, Sergi Roberto, Martin Montoya and Marc Bartra.
However Cristian Tello, who scored twice on his first team debut in November 2011 when aged just 20 and said this week said he might need to move on from the Camp Nou as he needed games at this stage in his career, is still sidelined with an ankle injury.
Martino suggested that the young winger might be less frustrated had he been available for recent games.
"I respect everyone’s opinions," he said. "But Cristian has been out for four games due to an injury. He would maybe have had more opportunities otherwise."
Puyol’s absence from Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao has led to fears that the right knee injury which ruined his 2012-13 season had not completely gone away, but Martino dismissed that idea.
"I am not concerned about Puyol, he has played in all the games he had to play," he said. "He is training well. He just had a bang on his knee, so he did not go to Bilbao for precaution."
With rumours suggesting the club could sign either a new centre-half or centre-forward in January, Martino said no decisions on transfer had yet been made.
"We have still not decided if we will sign someone during the winter window," he said. "There is still time to decide that. I am not going to talk about what will happen in a month’s time."