x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Football round-up: Martino happy with Barca variation

Messi and Neymar score as Spanish champions return to possession-based football in Real Sociedad thrashing.

Neymar scored for Barcelona whose performance was just as pleasing for Gerardo Martino, the manager. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo
Neymar scored for Barcelona whose performance was just as pleasing for Gerardo Martino, the manager. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo

MADRID // Gerardo Martino, the Barcelona manager, was delighted with his side’s first-half display as they brushed aside Real Sociedad 4-1 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday to extend their winning start to the Spanish Primera Liga campaign to six games.

After being out-possessed for the first time in more than five years in the 4-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano at the weekend, Barca looked more like their old selves with 68 per cent of the ball as they pulled Sociedad to pieces in the first period.

Goals from Neymar, Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets put them 3-0 up at the break, and Marc Bartra rounded off the scoring for the hosts after Alberto de la Bella had pulled a goal back for Sociedad.

“I am happy with everything that we saw. We want to have variation in our play, a change of pace and vertical attacks and it was all there, more in the first-half than in the second.

“However, we maintained our pressing for the whole match and that is sensational news for us.”

In accordance with his policy of rotating and resting his stars when possible, Martino withdrew both Messi and Neymar in the final quarter and the Argentine insisted that it is his job to protect Messi, even if his compatriot never wants to come off.

“He never wants to leave the field but I have to look after him. He needs to be in the right condition for the business end of the season.

“I have spoken with him and he never wants to come off because Leo always wants to play and finish the games. But if I change him it is so he can accumulate rest, I will not change him in a tight game.”

The only negative to come out of the match for the hosts was an injury picked up by Javier Mascherano.

The Argentine had to be replaced by Bartra with 10 minutes of the first-half remaining due to a hamstring problem and is due to undergo more tests on Wednesday.

“Apparently he has a muscular injury. It didn’t have anything to do with the knock he received earlier in the game but it prevented him from running at full capacity,” said Martino.

“He brings us professionalism, sacrifice, speed, intelligence, he supports the group and he is player whose importance is very well recognised both within the dressing room and by the fans.”

Defeat extended Sociedad’s winless streak to five games in all competitions and Busquets believes their more open style actually aided Barca to find their rhythm.

“It is obvious that some opponents will let you play a little more than others,” the midfielder told reporters.

“Sociedad had a great campaign last season and qualified for the Champions League, but we played very well in the first-half.”

The Spanish international was delighted to open his goalscoring account for the season and admitted his left-footed strike from 20 yards midway through the first-half may even be the best goal he has ever scored.

“It could be [my best goal], it was a very pretty goal from outside the area with my weaker foot. I am happy because it helped the team to win.”

Atletico Madrid 2 Osasuna 1

Diego Costa scored twice as Atletico Madrid kept pace with Barcelona at the top of the Primera Liga table with a 2-1 victory over Osasuna.

Both Atletico and Barca have not dropped a point in six league games so far and the capital club were on course to their latest success when Costa struck twice in seven first-half minutes.

Oriol Riera kept them honest for the second half after he struck just before the break, but Osasuna never threatened an equaliser to crash to their fifth defeat of a forgettable start.

1860 Munich 0 Borussia Dortmund 2

Borussia Dortmund needed extra time to see off 1860 Munich in the second round of the DFB Pokal 2-0.

The breakthrough came for the Bundesliga leaders in the 105th minute after 1860 midfielder Dominik Stahl brought down Marco Reus inside the area and was sent off, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sending Gabor Kiraly the wrong way with the resulting penalty.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan then added some gloss to the scoreline with a second moments later.

Bayer Leverkusen’s 2-0 away win over Arminia Bielefeld was more straightforward but they had to wait until the second half to break down the hosts.

Ibrahimovic extends PSG contract

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has signed a one-year contract extension with Paris Saint-Germain.

The 31-year-old Sweden international’s new deal ties him to the French Ligue 1 champions until June 2016.

Ibrahimovic, who joined PSG from AC Milan in July 2012, scored a league-high 30 goals last season to help the club win their first French title since 1994.

The former Barcelona, Ajax and Juventus hitman said after penning his new deal at the Parc des Princes: “I don’t see a more ambitious club in Europe than Paris St Germain.”

Marseille 2 St Etienne 1

Marseille ended a run of four games without a win as they hung on to see off St Etienne 2-1 in Ligue 1.

All three goals came in the space of 11 first-half minutes, with Benjamin Mendy and Giannelli Imbula giving Marseille an early 2-0 lead before Faouzi Ghoulam pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 32nd minute.

Given Marseille’s recent frustrations, nerves set in as they missed a series of chances to kill the game off, but they did enough to take three points which put them level with leaders Monaco, at least until Wednesday evening.