x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Gerardo Martino already making his mark at Barcelona football club

New manager of Primera Liga champions has brought key tactical changes as he looks to long term at Camp Nou, writes Andy Mitten.

Gerardo Martino enjoyed a winning Primera Liga start as Barcelona coach.
Gerardo Martino enjoyed a winning Primera Liga start as Barcelona coach.

Gerardo Martino, Barcelona's new manager, talked and talked. His side had just beaten Levante 7-0 in a game where one player, Xavi, made more passes in the first half than the entire Levante side had done.

Asked about planned changes to the Primera Liga champions, the Argentine said: "Why would I change anything? I love Barcelona's style.

"What we have done, if anything, is recover things that Barcelona did, but stopped doing."

Martino was not lying about loving the style. He had said as much a year ago, when he was manager at Newell's Old Boys, who he tried to mould around Barca.

But he has made changes. He started the game with €57 million (Dh280m) signing Neymar on the bench.

With the result all but secure, he removed Lionel Messi – the point being that while Messi may score more goals, he is better off resting if a game has been won rather than playing 90 minutes twice a week.

He did not start Andres Iniesta. He pushed his side higher up the pitch, suffocating Levante in their own half, he called for even more running from players when they did not have the ball and urged more caution in defence.

And he announced that he would be rotating players from the first day even if "you guys" – journalists asking questions – "don't like it".

He wants Barcelona to be at their best in February, March and April for the key games, not jaded, as they appeared last season.

Barca players are reported as saying that training is more physical, that they are spending more time looking at tactics, something they did not do when former coach Tito Vilanova was absent last season.

It all worked. They will have far tougher tests starting with Sunday's visit to Malaga, but Barcelona were perfection against a Levante side who had seen wholesale changes.

Like the rest of the Spanish league, Levante are weaker for it. Like the rest of the league, they will have to keep dipping into Spain's immense pool of football talent in the hope that some will be good enough to play at the top level.

Barca are already overstocked with talent. Fine-tuning that talent to bring Barca back to being the best side in the world is Martino's challenge.

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