Madrid: Manager Gerardo Martino hailed Barcelona’s ‘great performance’ in demolishing Levante 7-0 on Sunday and warned that this was just the start.
Barca’s mix of precise passing and intense pressing was far too much for the visitors as they cruised to a 6-0 first-half lead thanks to goals from Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi (2), Dani Alves, Pedro and Xavi.
Martino then introduced Brazilian international Neymar for his competitive debut after the break and could even afford the luxury of withdrawing Messi with 20 minutes remaining before Pedro rounded off the scoring for the evening with the seventh.
“The first-half performance was great,” the 50-year-old Argentine told a press conference. “The concepts we wanted to improve we have improved, but it was nothing new. They were things from the past that we have returned to doing. We scored a goal from pressing high, played both through the middle and on the wings, but we have only just started.”
The goal that arrived as a direct result of Barca’s high-pressing was Alves’ third, but it was the pressure exerted by Messi on the Levante backline that recovered possession.
And Martino said he had agreed with his compatriot that it will be better for Messi to rest in the final stages of such one-sided games this season.
“He is very intelligent and we came to an agreement very quickly in this sense,” Martino said. “I spoke to Leo a few weeks ago and we chatted about the importance of various matches and he understood that it was good to rest.
“Resting a little in many matches is the equivalent to resting a full game. In a tight game, I wouldn’t take him off. It would be crazy to do so.”
Another of Barca’s star performers on the evening was Cesc Fabregas as he was heavily involved in a number of the goals and Martino stressed he will be important player this season after the club turned down the advances of Manchester United to keep him at the Camp Nou.
“He had a good pre-season tour in Asia and he is very good because he gives us a lot of options,” Martino said. “He creates goals and arrives very well into the box.”
Pedro, meanwhile, hailed Martino’s influence in bringing back the intense pressing that was such an important aspect of Barca’s success in the early years of Pep Guardiola’s reign in charge.
“The road is very long, but if we continue on this line then things will go well,” he told Barca TV. “We are recovering the physical shape and pressing that we possibly lost in the last few years.
“We are on top of the opposition and it makes it very difficult for them. We will try to continue like this to achieve more victories.”
Meanwhile, Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti was a relieved man after Isco’s late header handed his side a 2-1 win over Real Betis, but he warned his side have a lot of improving to do.
Real looked set to drop two vital points in the Italian’s first game in charge as they struggled to break through in the second half after Karim Benzema and Jorge Molina had exchanged first-half strikes.
However, despite claiming the three points thanks to Isco’s intervention four minutes from time, Ancelotti was unhappy with how easily Real were opened up by Pepe Mel’s side.
“I think we can improve, which is normal,” said Ancelotti, who took over as manager from Jose Mourinho. “We had many chances to score and a lot of good combinations, especially on the wing.
“The problem was in defence. In the first half we didn’t work well together and we had a lot of problems.
“It was a problem of balance. There was a lot of space between our defence and midfield and Betis played very well in this area.
“If we want to play quality football, we need players like Isco and [Mesut] Ozil to do defensive work. Right now it is a normal problem, but they are generous players and we need to find the balance.”
On a typically hot August evening in the Spanish capital, both sides seemed to tire quickly as the second half wore on and Ancelotti believes the number of his players involved in international matches in midweek meant they struggled physically more than their opponents.
“Nine players who played tonight were not here this week as they were playing with their national sides and we didn’t have time to prepare,” the Italian said. “Physically, Betis were better.”
The former AC Milan, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain boss also made a big call in his first competitive game in charge by starting Diego Lopez in goal over club captain Iker Casillas.
Mourinho had also dropped Casillas in favour of Lopez for the last few months of last season, however, Ancelotti refused to confirm that the former Villarreal keeper would be his No 1 this season.
“I took this decision for the match today,” Ancelotti said. “It was a decision made on fine details and we will see what happens in the next match.
“I spoke with Iker, he is very professional and wanted to play, which is normal and good.”