On Sunday afternoon, Neymar sat on Barcelona’s bench as they pumped Osasuna, putting seven goals past them at Camp Nou.
Given that 2014 has not proved to be a good year for the Brazilian, he would have wanted to get involved in the rout, especially ahead of Sunday’s Clasico.
For a while it looked like he was going to play a part, Tata Martino sending him to warm up for 10 minutes, as per Marca.
But in the end, Martino decided to send young Cristian Tello on, and he was instantly rewarded when the Spanish forward smashed home from outside the box only a minute after his arrival.
Neymar sat back down on the bench and did not look particularly happy about Martino’s snub, even though his side were rampant.
It’s possible that the Brazilian was rested by Martino because of a slight injury doubt.
I watched Neymar limp through the mixed zone after the Manchester City clash on Wednesday night, after their 2-1 Champions League victory.
Neymar hobbling through the barça mixed zone— Rik Sharma (@riksharma_) March 12, 2014
The Brazilian did not play well and was substituted after 80 minutes for Alexis Sanchez, who also scored against Osasuna.
Martino wouldn’t have named him on the bench unless he believed that Neymar could play, but perhaps he decided to err on the side of caution.
Despite his side’s total dominance against Osasuna, Martino claims he will not let the performance or result influence his selection for Sunday’s crunch clash with Barcelona.
He spoke at length about it during his post-match press conference, reported by Inside Spanish Football, and said he has basically settled on his starting line-up for the Clasico.
What happened today doesn’t raise questions about who I will pick for the Bernabeu, today’s performance doesn’t change who I think should play there. I’m always thinking about who I will have in the line-up, independent of today’s results. I’ve almost decided the line-up already.
We’ve given a lot of material for people to talk about this week. Having a good performance ahead of the match at the Bernabeu helps, but we can’t forget to prepare well. It’s not easy to score seven goals but it won’t change people from saying that we’re a disaster and blowing everything out of proportion. This is a squad full of stars and we often times have to leave someone out. I can’t leave them out just because of the last match. It’s not easy to manage because they are very good player, not through any fault of their own. The last game doesn’t change much.
Martino’s words don’t reveal if Neymar will be selected for the game or not, but if he had already decided on his line-up, then there was no knowledge he could gain from sending Neymar on in a match that was already won.
However, after Lionel Messi, Alexis and Andres Iniesta had sent Barcelona in at 3-0 up, Neymar may have appreciated the opportunity to show the Blaugrana supporters what he has to offer.
Why is Neymar bein jeered off? Smh— Malcolm (@MalcolmXJHB) March 12, 2014
Some whistled him off during the game against Manchester City, which, while impatient of them, shows that the player isn’t going to be given an easy ride.
The debacle over his transfer means that there is extra pressure on his shoulders to perform.
"If I had to give an explanation for [his form] then I would say it is to do with that," said Martino, as per the BBC.
He was bought to make the difference in the title race and games like Sunday’s Clasico are the ones where Neymar needs to perform.
Should Neymar start against Real Madrid?
But Alexis is Barcelona’s second top goalscorer in the league this season with 17 goals, behind only Lionel Messi on 18 after his hat-trick.
Pedro, the other player who Neymar could replace in the starting line-up next Sunday night, is the club’s third top league scorer, with 14.
Neymar, meanwhile, albeit hampered by the injury he suffered during the festive period, has only seven goals.
The political impact of keeping Neymar out of the side for the Real Madrid clash may weigh on Martino.
But if he was choosing a team based on current form—and given how tight the La Liga title race is at the moment, this should be his only consideration—then Neymar would remain on the sidelines.