Luis Enrique says Ivan Rakitic is still an important player for Barcelona but would not be drawn on the prospect of offering him a new contract.
The Croatia international continues to be linked with a move away from Camp Nou after falling down the pecking order since the 1-1 Clasico draw with Real Madrid in December.
Rakitic – whose contract expires in 2019 – has been linked with a transfer to Manchester City, although he stated his loyalty to Luis Enrique in an interview published in France Football this week, saying: “If I had to throw myself off a bridge for him, I would do it without hesitation.”
The Barca coach, whose own deal expires at the end of the season, was typically unwilling to discuss contract renewals in public but stressed that he still considers Rakitic key.
“Rakitic is an important player – he has been and he will be so,” Luis Enrique told a news conference. “I’ve got nothing to say on renewals. I’ve nothing to say on mine.
“The key thing in a sporting aspect is that all the players are available. What I want is that they’re in a condition to play the minutes that I give them.”
Asked for his view on the midfielder’s comments, he replied: “That interview was done a while ago… I hope you don’t ask him the same now!”
Luis Enrique went on to defend the recent form of Neymar, whose goal in the 3-1 Copa del Rey last-16 second-leg win over Athletic Bilbao last week was his first since October 19.
“I’m delighted with Neymar. I’ve seen what he’s done during these few years, regardless of the statistics. He has fun when it comes to training and we enjoy him when he plays,” he said.
“What he brings to the team is much more than just goals. He’s having a good season.”
8 – FC Barcelona did not win in their last eight games in Anoeta (3D 5L) in all competitions. Difficult
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 13, 2017
Barca continue their defence of the Copa with a daunting clash at Real Sociedad in Thursday’s quarter-final first leg – the Catalans have not won at Anoeta since May 2007, nine matches ago.
Luis Enrique is eager for an improved performance to that which Barca produced in the league in November, when they were fortunate to escape San Sebastian with a 1-1 draw.
“We haven’t been at our level against Real, they have been superior, especially in the last LaLiga game,” he said.
“They’re a team who have a good long game, a good structure, they’re dangerous if you let them play. Eusebio [Sacristan] is doing fantastic work and they’re going to make our lives difficult.
“My hope is that the game doesn’t resemble the league game at all. Drawing that was undeserved – la Real deserved to win. I hope for a game where we can overcome all their pressure, something they do with a lot of intensity.
“Winning would be important, but not decisive.”