Neymar must begin to show form for Barca

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

Dani Pozo/AFP/Getty ImagesNeymar has yet to start a match for Barcelona in 2014.

After being used sparingly in the three matches to date in 2014, Neymar must begin to show some form for Barcelona in the coming weeks and build on his early season promise if he wants to be guaranteed playing time at the business end of the season.

As Barca challenge for trophies on three fronts, there will be no rest now for what is a virtually full schedule and the Brazilian will have to take his opportunities to improve on 11 goals and 10 assists from his displays for the side in 2013.

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However, with competition intense for attacking places, manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino will be keeping an open mind as to what his best options are ahead of the two legs with Manchester City in the Champions League, beginning on February 18th.

Neymar came to life in the dying minutes of the goalless draw with Atletico on Saturday, but it was a shame he left it so late because, until then, he had not shown enough of his attacking wizardry to worry Barca's rivals at the top of La Liga during his 23 minute cameo.

Before Saturday, he had managed just ten minutes this year in the 4-0 win over Elche before missing the Spanish Cup first leg tie against Getafe last week due to an upset stomach. This came after a longer than expected Christmas break due to picking up a suspension before the Getafe league game just before the winter break.

In that period away from the starting eleven, both Pedro and Alexis Sanchez have hit hat tricks while Fabregas has got four goals, some valuable assists and has generally been excellent either as a false nine or in a deeper midfield position.

Sanchez is finally showing Barca the form that convinced the club to pay close to 40 million euros to Udinese in 2011. The Chilean now has 11 goals in 25 matches having scored the same amount last season in 46 games.

Similarly, Pedro has 15 in 29 matches, a big improvement on last season's 10 goals in 45 games. He also has the uncanny knack of grabbing goals at crucial times, his nine minute first half hat trick at Getafe just before Christmas with his side two goals down being the most recent example of that.

Sanchez, and especially Pedro, were both very important defensively for Barca on Saturday in the Vicente Calderon against an Atletico side that attacked them aggressively in the opening minutes. It was the sort of fiery start Barca will expect to face against a City side desperate for home goals in the first leg in Manchester.

It could now be the meaningless second leg of the cup match in Getafe on Thursday night where Neymar is asked to start his first game of 2014 and where a professional performance will be expected.

He seems to be aware of the opportunity facing him and is saying the right things in the press. In an interview with Barcelona-based sports paper El Mundo Deportivo published on Wednesday, he says, "I have come here to win things, I hope to make history at Barca and with the 'selecao' at the World Cup."

He also assessed his time at the club up to now. "I am very happy with my start here and I know I can do much more for this club. Together (with Lionel Messi) we can do great things, win lots of matches and also help our teammates."

It is those teammates that he will also be competing with for a place in the side, and it is not just Neymar with the World Cup on his mind. While he is a shoe-in for Brazil's starting eleven, both Fabregas and Pedro have a big second half of the season ahead of them to prove to Vicente del Bosque that they should play their part for Spain in Brazil, while Sanchez will be Chile's most important player.

Thursday night in a near empty stadium in the industrial outskirts of Madrid could be the first step back in such an important year for Neymar. In the Brazilian heat of June and July when everyone is talking about players being exhausted after such a hard season, it may be that those 33 minutes of competitive football Neymar has played in the past month will come in handy for Brazil. More significantly, at the moment, he needs to get back on track for Barca.

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