BARCELONA - Javier Mascherano has backed his Argentina team mate Lionel Messi to respond to his World Cup disappointment on the pitch for Barcelona in the new season.
Messi was named the best player at the World Cup after Argentina lost the final to Germany, a decision that was widely questioned after the forward's often lacklustre displays.
The former world player of the year returned early to Barcelona to concentrate on pre-season training before the La Liga kick-off this weekend when Barcelona, who failed to win a trophy last season, play host to Elche.
"First of all I think Leo is in good spirits, and with drive and ambition to start the new season, knowing as we all do that it will be a demanding campaign," Mascherano told a news conference in Barcelona.
"In terms of the criticism that he received, then it is obviously unjust. I said in my country, Argentina, that we got to the World Cup final thanks to him, we wouldn't have played in it without him.
"It annoys me when they give out an award and they criticise him when it is a decision that he didn't take. He is not responsible - it is the people who voted and he was the main player of the team, the best."
It is a new-look Barcelona under Luis Enrique after an overhaul that followed their first barren season in six years. Mascherano says he is ready to play in either central defence or midfield for the new coach.
"I have been here for four years and my role has never changed. I am happy to be a player for the team and be used where the coach or the team require me," he said. "The most important thing is to be of value for the team."
Barca will not have their marquee signing Luis Suarez available until the end of October following his four-month ban for biting an Italian opponent at the World Cup.
Mascherano says the Uruguayan is a welcome new member of the team.
"Our South American roots unite us and we have always got on well. We have known each other for a long time. We have a lot in common, like both playing for Liverpool," said Mascherano. "I think he is doing well and it is not necessary to say how good a player he is."
Real Madrid, the European champions, and Atletico Madrid, the league champions, take on Cordoba and Rayo Vallecano on Monday having already faced each other this week in the Spanish Super Cup.
The pair drew 1-1 in the first leg and meet again on Friday at the Calderon.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone has played down his team's chances of repeating their La Liga success.
"I do not like to lie to people and one thing is clear: we cannot compete with Madrid and Barcelona," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. "Our rivals will be Sevilla, Valencia and Athletic (Bilbao) - our objective is third place."