Gerardo Martino, the Barcelona manager, said he is not annoyed by questions over the style of play he is trying to impose on his players, despite an almost flawless start to the season.
The Spanish champions have racked up five straight league wins, beat Ajax 4-0 in their Uefa Champions League opener and regained the Spanish Super Cup with an away-goals victory over Atletico Madrid.
The Argentine did hint that he is being treated differently because he is neither a local nor Dutch, given the history of coaches from the Netherlands taking charge at Camp Nou after Johan Cruyff’s excellent side in the early 1990s.
“I am not bothered by the debate,” he said on Monday. “When a team has bordered on excellence, there are these type of situations, especially when the coach is neither from within the club or Dutch. What interests me is the group of players. They are solid and calm and that makes me relaxed.”
The debate over Barca’s more direct new style was brought to the fore in their 4-0 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday. Despite the disparity on the scoreboard, Rayo had more possession time than the visitors.
It was the first time in over five years that the Catalans had not had more of the ball, but Martino claimed that had more to do with Rayo’s ball retention than a radical change on Barca’s part.
“Possession is significant depending on the team. For Barcelona, it is very important, but we need to look at the characteristics of the opponents. The possession against Rayo last season was 55 per cent, which is also not what Barcelona are used to.
“I have not come here to change anything and if you ask me about the average possession, last year it was 66 per cent and this year it is 65.8 per cent. I don’t think you can say everything has changed for this 0.2 per cent.
“People talk about long passes, but I remember when Rafa Marquez [the no-nonsense Mexican centre-back] played here, so we are not doing anything that I haven’t already seen here.”
Barca’s next test comes at home to struggling Real Sociedad on Tuesday night. A win will move Martino’s men five points clear of Real Madrid for at least 24 hours before their trip to Elche on Wednesday.
Midfielder Gareth Bale is a major doubt for Madrid’s game after the club confirmed he has suffered a thigh strain.
The Welshman was due to make his home debut against Getafe on Sunday, but pulled up with the injury in the warm-up and had to replaced by Isco.
A statement on the club’s website said that a scan had detected a strain in his left thigh and his return to action would depend on his recovery over the next few days.
Carlo Ancelotti, the Madrid manager, said after the game that he was hopeful Bale would at least be fit for Saturday’s Madrid derby against Atletico.
Bale, 24, has played just 90 minutes of action since sealing his world transfer record breaking move from Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month.