Gerardo Martino could hardly have wished for a better start to his time at the FC Barcelona helm as the Liga holders began the defence of their title with the club's biggest opening-day victory.
Indeed, the 7-0 triumph against Levante UD, which included doubles for Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodríguez as well as goals for Alexis Sánchez, Xavi Hernández and Daniel Alves, even surprised Martino. The Argentine was in the dugout at the Camp Nou for the first time since taking over from Tito Vilanova in the summer. "The debut exceeded all my expectations," he said. "The squad is exceptional, just look at the changes I made. Iniesta, Neymar and [Cristian] Tello came on which tells you everything."
The 50-year-old coach is in the process of stamping his authority on the squad and this was no more evident than in his withdrawal of Messi in the 71st minute. It was the first time that the Argentina forward has been substituted in a league match since 19 September 2010 against Club Atlético de Madrid. Martino is certain that his philosophy will be key to keeping the prolific forward fit for the entire campaign.
"I was very clear with all the players; you can't achieve success in a season with so many games with only 11 or 12 players," he said. "We must spread the effort among the 23-man squad. No one substitutes Messi in an even game, nobody is that crazy, but I talked to him and he realised that in games where the result is already determined he needs to rest."
The Barcelona coach also had his say on Neymar's debut and the prospect of playing the Brazilian international, who joined in the summer from FC Santos, with Messi in what promises to be one of Europe's most potent forward lines. "Neymar is new at this club and we would damage him if we demand too much from him from day one," added Martino. "My obligation is to look beyond a game or two. I know people want to see him with Leo but there is no need to rush."
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