Barcelona seek greater intensity under Martino
Spanish champions are eager to rekindle their desire under new coach Gerardo Martino after admitting to losing their tempo late last year
Agence France-Presse in Madrid
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 kick off the defence of their league title against Levante tomorrow, after Tito Vilanova had to resign due to continuing health problems.
However, Xavi, 31, 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," Xavi 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 towards the end of last season.
"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 that 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 champions.
The Brazilian 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 friendly with Italy on Wednesday.
Captain Carles Puyol will 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 friendly with Ecuador this week 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 are the visitors.
Real Madrid have enjoyed a superb pre-season and Ancelotti will have a wealth of midfield options to choose from following the luring of Isco and Asier Illarramendi from Malaga and Real Sociedad respectively.
Arguably the most exciting fixture of the opening weekend though comes with a new-look Sevilla hosting Atletico Madrid.
Atletico enjoyed a fantastic campaign last season to finish third and won the Copa del Rey. As a result they will face Barcelona in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup next week and have Champions League play to look forward to.
However, coach Diego Simeone has insisted it is important that his team maintain the consistency they showed last season, starting on Sunday.
"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 said.
"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," he said.
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 Monaco.
At Sevilla, coach Unai Emery could hand debuts to 10 recruits as the Andalusians have rebuilt following the loss of Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Gary Medel.