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We can't hide behind Messi's injury, warns Martino

The Barcelona boss believes the return of the Argentine will see his side continue to improve this season, while he revealed Carles Puyol could return in two weeks

Gerardo Martino has warned his Barcelona players not to use Lionel Messi's injury as an excuse for performing poorly.

The Argentine is currently sidelined with a thigh injury sustained in the win over Almeria, and although Barca secured a hard-fought 1-0 win over Celtic in his absence, head coach Martino insists they cannot use the 26-year-old as an excuse for a drop in performance levels.

"I don't think there is a team who can play better without the best player in the world. We have to make sure we do not hide behind the absence of Leo, but we're going to be much better with Leo on the pitch. That's a guarantee," he told a press conference.

"There is room for improvement, the team is evolving. We have made progress since the first match, and I don’t think there have been any steps in the wrong direction. We are going from less to more and winning as we do it, which is what we have to do."

Martino went on to stress that Neymar must not be viewed as a replacement for Messi during the Argentine's recovery period, insisting he must continue to stay true to his own style of play.

"Neymar is already used to enduring huge work loads exceptionally well. Every player has to behave according to their needs, they have to be authentic rather than trying to disguise themselves as somebody else," the former Newell's Old Boys boss continued.

"When you look at Neymar from the outside without being his coach, he impresses, and it's certainly true he has been doing impressive work for the team."

One player who is set to return to action soon for Barcelona is captain Carles Puyol, with Martino revealing the 35-year-old is confident he could be fit within two weeks' time having been sidelined for the season so far following knee surgery.

"He looks fine to me. We have been talking recently and he has told me that after these last two weeks and the two weeks to come, by the time of the game against Osasuna on October 19 he should be as available as anyone else, although he’ll obviously need to get back into the rhythm of playing matches," said the Argentine.

Finally, the 50-year-old stressed that Alexis Sanchez has been subjected to unfair criticism in recent weeks, while stating that young defender Marc Bartra will continue to improve if he learns to keep his composure in matches.

"What strikes me is that he [Alexis] gets all the attention when he doesn't have a good game and when he does things well it gets put aside," he said. "He has to behave and play like Alexis Sanchez, not like anyone else. The other day, the first time he touched the ball was to set up a goal. We are very pleased with him.

"Bartra sometimes plays a bit too fast and if he could move it down a gear we’d see the best version of him."

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