The Argentine was the hero again as he rescued a point for the Bluagrana at Villarreal, but he could do with some help from his Brazilian team-mate
Barcelona host Athletic Club on Wednesday night in the second leg of the sides’ last-16 tie in the Copa del Rey. And after the Catalans’ 2-1 loss in the first match, Camp Nou will be witness to the first “final” of the season for their team.
Luis Enrique claimed to be confident in the pre-match press conference on Tuesday and asked the fans to come along to the stadium and support the team. However, it is the players who will need to overturn the first-leg deficit.
Some of those could do little more and that is the case of Lionel Messi, who has impressed again at the start of the year with a goal against Athletic at San Mames and then the brilliant late leveller which saw Barca claim a point at Villarreal on Sunday. However, he cannot do it all alone and some have even compared the current situation with his role for Argentina, ever dependent on his excellence.
Neymar and Luis Suarez are the perfect foils for Messi, but the pair have not started 2017 at their best level. The Uruguayan has been poor in both matches since the turn of the year and has been inconsistent for much of the current campaign overall. Neymar, meanwhile, is looking lost. While he has improved in recent games, the Brazilian is still well below his best – especially in front of goal.
Luis Enrique came out to defend the 24-year-old in the lead-up to the game against Hercules before Christmas and highlighted his work-rate above his statistics. “He’s an ambitious player,” the Asturian said. “The aim is to improve his numbers, but I think his performances have been at a very high level – at the same level of the last two seasons.
“I don’t look really at how many goals Ney can score. He will score a lot of goals this season and he will give a lot of assists. I don’t think individual details are too much of a concern.”
However, the Brazilian has not scored since the 4-0 win over Manchester City on October 19. In total, he has netted only six times this term – four in La Liga and two in the Champions League. In the Primera Division last season, he had scored 14 goals by this time, though, and 11 the previous campaign. His assist numbers have improved, but the 991 minutes since his last goal must be a worry for the Catalan club – whatever Luis Enrique says