AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino had an injury crisis and the prospect of setting a record-equaling unbeaten start to a season to think about on the eve of Tuesday’s Champions League tie at Ajax Amsterdam.
Lionel Messi, Xavi and Victor Valdes lead a long list of players in the treatment room while Alexis Sanchez is suspended for a Group H match in which leaders Barca need a point to qualify for the last 16.
By avoiding defeat Martino will also tie the club’s longest unbeaten opening to a campaign - 21 matches set by Pep Guardiola’s 2011-12 side.
“There are going to be comparisons with recent years especially with the results we have been having recently,” the coach told reporters on Monday.
“It is difficult for me to judge what the team was like before I was here. We need to keep winning and improving so that we can achieve what the club has done recently and what is expected of us.”
Barca always go out to win, said the Argentine, adding: ”That is what we will do against Ajax. If you are without players like Messi, Xavi, Jordi Alba it is not as easy but I have belief in the players and I will put out the best side I can.
“If you are missing the best player (Messi) then it is a benefit for the other side but we have a big and strong enough squad to cope. It is not such a big problem.”
While Barca have several options going forward, they will be forced to field a makeshift defense with full backs Alba, Adriano and Dani Alves all injured.
It means that center half Carles Puyol could play on the right and Martin Montoya on the left.
Martino is not underestimating Ajax who are in third place, six points adrift of Barca, with plenty to play for after victory in their last European match against Celtic.
“They are a very good team that is comfortable on the ball,” he said.
“Historically they are a side that work with their youth system and so they have players with a good touch. We need to pressure them as they can cause problems if we allow them to have the ball but we are also confident of our strengths in possession.”
Writing by Tim Hanlon in Barcelona, editing by Tony Goodson