Gerardo Martino, the Barcelona manager, encouraged his side not to get distracted by off-field matters as they prepare for their final game of 2013 at Getafe on Sunday.
It has been a busy week in the Catalan capital, The club were ordered by a judge to hand over the contracts which brought Neymar to the club, while it was announced that Barca were one of seven Spanish clubs that the European Commission are investigating for possibly receiving illegal state aid.
Lionel Messi caused further controversy on Friday when he said the club’s vice-president Javier Faus “didn’t know anything about football”.
Martino waved off questions about Messi’s comments, but is hoping the controversy off the field will ignite more team spirit among his players.
“Personally, what bothers me is how the team play,” he said. “I am not used to distracting myself with these questions that don’t have anything to do with football.
“I want to concentrate on what matters more to the team; who is playing better, which team wins and the players that are available for the next match.
“We need to come together and work to be stronger on the pitch as a group. If we can do that, then what happens on the outside isn’t going to affect us.”
Martino has a number of selection problems ahead of the Getafe game, since the suspended Neymar and injured Xavi have joined Messi and Victor Valdes on the sideline.
However, Dani Alves returns to the squad for the first time in a month.
With Barca leading the Primera Liga on goals scored ahead of Atletico Madrid, the Catalans could be knocked off the top spot for the first time this calendar year should they fail to match Atleti’s result at home against Levante on Saturday night.
Martino is keen to remain on top as a confidence boost heading into 2014.
“I think it is very important to finish the year not only in first place, but also with a solid performance,” Martino said.
“I hope our football will continue to improve with respect to the last four matches.
“I think it is important to not only return from the holidays in good physical shape, but also with confidence.”
Meanwhile, Gareth Bale will miss Real Madrid’s final game of the year at Valencia today because of an inflamed calf muscle.
Bale was absent from Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Olimpic Xativa in the Copa del Rey after picking up the injury in training on Tuesday.
However, Madrid’s manager Carlo Ancelotti insisted the injury is not serious, suggesting the Welshman will be fully fit by the time Real return to action after the winter break on January 6.
“The injury he has is just a knock,” Ancelotti said.
“It is not a serious injury, but he won’t be available for tomorrow.
“He hasn’t had the necessary time to recover.”
Fan ban lifted for Milan derby
Inter Milan will have their hardcore “ultra” supporters present for Sunday’s Milan derby after the Italian Football Federation’s (FIGC) Court of Justice suspended a partial stadium closure while it carries out further investigations.
Roma will also have their most-vocal fans present when they host Catania, after a similar suspension was lifted for the same reason.
“The Inter and Roma curvas have been reopened with an interim ordinance suspending the penalty and asks for further investigations to be carried out by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office,” wrote FIGC on its website.
The FIGC announced on Tuesday the section closures following incidents of alleged racially offensive chanting by fans during matches last weekend.
Inter were punished after “territorially discriminatory” chants against Napoli fans were alleged during their 4-2 defeat at the San Paolo Stadium last Sunday, leading to the closure of the Curva Nord section of the San Siro.
Roma were hit with the closure of the Curva Sud section of the Stadio Olimpico after alleged racist chanting directed at AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli in Monday’s 2-2 draw at the San Siro, a claim disputed by the club.
“In the past, we have been quick to condemn incidents of racism, but in this case we are convinced that nothing like that happened,” Roma general manager Mauro Baldissoni said.
Inter go into the derby in fifth place on 28 points, seven behind third-place Napoli, while unbeaten Roma lie second on 38 points, five behind leaders Juventus.
AC Milan are 10th on 19 points.
Leverkusen and Dortmund lose to give Bayern edge in Germany
Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund both lost in the Bundesliga on Saturday, leaving Bayern Munich as the biggest beneficiary on the day even though the defending champions were not in the country.
With Bayern playing the Club World Cup final in Morocco on Saturday night, Leverkusen and Dortmund could have gained some ground on the undefeated leaders. But Leverkusen went down 1-0 at Werder Bremen and Dortmund lost 2-1 at home to Hertha Berlin, leaving Bayern seven points ahead of Leverkusen and 12 ahead of Dortmund, with one match in hand.
Fixers banned in Malaysia
Malaysian football authorities imposed lifetime bans on five players and three officials for match-fixing in the domestic league.
The eight, who represented Kuala Lumpur, also were slapped with a 20,000 ringgit (Dh22,345) fine each, part of Football Association of Malaysia’s push to fight match-rigging in the Southeast Asian country. Another seven players from the same football club will face a disciplinary hearing on Friday.
Sevilla recover to beat Villarreal
Sevilla defender Cala scored once and was later sent off as his side made up for a Copa del Rey upset with a 2-1 victory over Villarreal in the Primera Liga on Saturday.
The Andalusian side crashed out of the cup at the hands of lower league Racing Santander on Wednesday, but showed the intensity they were missing in that defeat as Cala headed them in front in the first half. Carlos Bacca slotted home after the break before Cala conceded a penalty late on and was red-carded.
Cavani out of Lille game
Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain will be without the in-form Edinson Cavani when they host Lille on Sunday night after the Uruguay striker was left out of the squad for personal reasons.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc said on Friday that Cavani was doubtful for the game after being allowed to travel to Uruguay to deal with a personal matter. The Uruguayan daily El Observador said that Cavani was sorting out divorce issues in Montevideo.
Montpellier line up Niang
Young AC Milan forward M’Baye Niang, 20, will join Montpellier on a six-month loan deal in January, according to different sources.
Montpellier, who are struggling in France’s Ligue 1 and recently brought back Rolland Courbis as coach for a second spell, want Niang to cover for the injured Djamel Bakar.
Bakar is out for the rest of the season after suffering a serious knee injury last month. France Under 21 forward Niang, started his career in Ligue 1 with Caen.
Thailand clinch gold in games
Thailand beat Indonesia 1-0 to take gold in the men’s Under 23 football final at the Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar on Saturday.
A clever finish by forward Sarawut Masuk on 21 minutes was enough to hold off the hard-working Indonesians, who were runners-up and silver medallists for the second tournament in a succession. Earlier in the day, Singapore took the bronze medal after beating defending champions Malaysia 2-1.