Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez believes his side will rekindle their intensity and pressing under the tutelage of new manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino.
The Argentine was appointed less than four weeks before Barca kickoff the defense of their La Liga title against Levante UD tomorrow, after Tito Vilanova had to resign due to ongoing health problems.
However, Xavi believes the squad are adjusting well to Martino’s methods and has backed the new coach to be a success, despite his lack of managerial experience in Europe.
“He is a leader, capable, prepared and has experience,” the 33-year-old told Barcelona sports daily Sport. “He is transmitting a lot to us. We are recovering a little of the intensity and rhythm that perhaps we lost for various reasons toward the end of last season. We are pressing very well and working well physically. He is adding things that he is influencing a lot. For example, on set-pieces we are working differently. We are adjusting and he is a guy who is very clear about what he wants.”
Martino’s insistence on pressing high up the field was very evident in his only game at the Camp Nou so far as Barca destroyed Santos 8-0 in a friendly that formed part of the deal to bring Neymar to the Spanish champions.
The Brazil international will also make his competitive Barcelona debut against Levante, but World Player of the Year Lionel Messi is a doubt as he continues to recover from the quadriceps injury that forced him to miss Argentina’s international friendly with Italy on Wednesday.
Captain Carles Puyol will definitely be absent for the Catalans after he underwent knee surgery to remove a cyst last month, but Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez should be fit to play, despite missing Spain’s international friendly with Ecuador in midweek due to minor injuries.
Real Madrid also get their league campaign underway tomorrow with a new man in charge as Carlo Ancelotti makes his bow at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Real Betis Balompie are the visitors.
Los Blancos have enjoyed a superb pre-season that encompassed victories over Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Inter, and Ancelotti will have a wealth of midfield options to choose from following the capture of Isco and Asier Illarramendi from Malaga and Real Sociedad respectively.
Arguably the most enticing fixture of the opening weekend though comes at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where a new-look Sevilla host Atletico Madrid.
Atletico enjoyed a fantastic campaign last season as they finished third and won the Copa del Rey. As a result they will face Barcelona in the first leg of the Spanish Supercopa on Wednesday and have the UEFA Champions League to look forward to.
However, coach Diego Simeone has insisted it is important that his team maintain the consistency they showed in La Liga last season, starting tomorrow.
“We need to continue in the same way, looking for the consistency we had last season. Therefore, we can’t look beyond the present and that is Sevilla,” he told the club’s Web site. “We need to start again at zero and not get away from going game by game. We have had a good pre-season, especially physically, and we have been competitive.”
New signings David Villa and Leo Baptistao are likely to be involved for Atletico as they try to compensate for the loss of Radamel Falcao, who joined AS Monaco back in June.
However, the transfer activity at Atletico has not compared with that at Sevilla and coach Unai Emery could hand debuts to as many as 10 new recruits as the Andalusians have rebuilt following the departures of Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Gary Medel.