Barcelona coach Tata Martino says he’d happily shoulder more of the pressure faced by Neymar, but that the Brazilian has the ability to cope under the spotlight.
There is much expectation on the big-money summer signing to provide the inspiration in the absence of Lionel Messi, who is ruled out until the New Year. Neymar certainly showed his qualities against Celtic on Wednesday when he struck his first hat-trick for the Blaugrana. Martino has also suffered his fair share of pressure since taking charge and would have no problem facing more if it aided his young star.
“I’d prefer to be under more pressure and ease the pressure on Neymar,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “But I don’t know if that’s the best solution. I don’t have to go out there and play and I don’t suffer the consequences of what happens during those 90 minutes on the pitch. He is used to playing under pressure and generally, he copes well.”
Since suffering back-to-back defeats, Barcelona have responded with victories in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League and will now be looking to get back to winning ways in La Liga. A defeat to Athletic Bilbao in their last league encounter allowed Atletico Madrid to move onto level points with them at the top of the standings while great rivals Real Madrid now sit just three points back. Martino is intent on ending the year on top.
“We set ourselves four objectives [this month]: play better -- which was our priority -- finish the Champions League in first place in our group, qualify for the next round in the Copa del Rey and end the year at the top of the table -- that means winning tomorrow and beating Getafe,” he explained. “It’s not important what our rivals do if we continue winning.”
Barcelona face a tough test on Saturday, however, with the visit of Villarreal to the Camp Nou. Having been promoted back to Spain’s top division last season, Villarreal made a superb start to the campaign. While they have been more inconsistent of late, they have won their last two matches on the road and sit in an impressive fifth place in the standings. In attack, Marcelino Garcia Toral’s side have been led by six goals apiece from Nigerian striker Ikechukwu Uche and Mexican star Giovani dos Santos. There will have to be some reshuffling in midfield at the Camp Nou, however, where Villarreal will be unable to call upon Bruno, while the influential Cani is an injury doubt.
Messi and Victor Valdes remain out for Barcelona, while Adriano is suspended. Andres Iniesta is set to return to the lineup after being rested against Celtic.
Where to watch: The Spanish Primera Division match will kick off at 2 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream provided by beIN Sport Play.