Martino defends decision to bench Messi & Neymar

12 January 2014 01:17

Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino said any coach would have taken the same decision as he did after leaving star forwards Lionel Messi and Neymar on the bench for his side's 0-0 draw away to Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Both Messi and Neymar were introduced after half-time, but even they couldn't find a way through Atletico's watertight defence as the stalemate leaves both sides still level on points at the top of La Liga.

Messi had made his comeback from two months out due to a hamstring tear in spectacular style by scoring twice as a second-half substitute against Getafe in midweek.

Neymar, meanwhile, missed that match due to a stomach virus and Martino stressed that he was merely beng prudent in not rushing both players back into action too soon.

"They were not ready to start," he said.

"We wanted them to come on in the first 15 or 20 minutes of the second-half, but (Andres) Iniesta got a knock on his knee and Messi had to come on after half-time.

"We obviously thought he would play a little less, but I thought he looked good. He had that spark and created two chances.

"As a coach, I have to take decisions and to me that's what seemed the right thing to do

"Neymar had a stomach problem before the game against Getafe and that always saps your energy. We only remember Messi's goals from the other night, but we can't forget he hasn't played for 60 days. Any coach would have done what I did."

Despite dropping points for just the third time in the league this season, Martino was satisfied with his team's display, which leaves them top on goal difference exactly halfway through the league campaign.

"I don't give any importance to being the winter champion. It is much more important to be champions in the summer time.

"However, we have improved, especially since the two defeats we had in Amsterdam in the Champions League and Bilbao in the league.

"We have 50 points. Our excellent results haven't always come from excellent football, but sometimes you have to suffer to enjoy things at the end and this game will make us stronger."

Atletico boss Diego Simeone was also not too displeased with a point despite failing to win at home for the first time this season.

And he lauded his players' effort for bridging the gap in terms of the resources on offer to both clubs.

"We have a lot of respect for Barcelona, there is a small matter of a 400 million euro ($545 million, £331 million) difference in budget and with our tools we have fought which is good."

It was the third time in three meetings this season that Atletico have held Barcelona after both legs of the Spanish Super Cup ended in draws with Barca taking the spoils on away goals.

And Simeone said the secret of his side's success lay in the work rate of his forwards.

"They can't beat us and we can't beat them," he said with a wry smile.

"The secret is in the work of our forwards, without their work we wouldn't be able to play in different ways. Today we did it with a 4-4-2 thanks to (David) Villa and (Diego) Costa, I value that they are so committed."

Source: AFP

World Cup Group G

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