Predictions for Neymar During Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

Rory MarsdenFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2014

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 12:  Neyma of FC Barcelona looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City at Camp Nou on March 12, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Neymar has had a poor 2014 for Barcelona. He has only one goal and one assist this calendar year for his club and will have to up his game when the Catalan giants take on Real Madrid on Sunday.

Every indication suggests that the Brazilian will start the match at the Bernabeu, despite being an unused substitute in last week's 7-0 thrashing of Osasuna.  

Not least because of Tata Martino's pre-game comments to reporters on Saturday: "I will repeat something I said: Neymar is one of the five best players in the world. I don't need any middle party to confirm his qualities."

This praise from his manager would suggest the 22-year-old will line up in the starting 11 on Sunday and he will need to turn his form around to repay that faith.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 12:  Neymar (C) of Barcelona is tackled by Joleon Lescott (R) and Aleksandar Kolarov (L) of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City  at Camp Nou on Ma
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

This El Clasico will be key in deciding the destination of the La Liga title this season, and a loss for Barcelona will see them effectively out of the race.

They currently sit third, four points behind leaders Madrid. And the quality of Carlo Ancelotti's side this season suggests that Barcelona will have to win to maintain their title ambitions.

Neymar could kick-start a strong end to the season if he can perform well and help his side to a victory.


Respond to the El Clasico Pressure

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 12:  (L-R) Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates with teammates Neymar, Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg match between FC Barcelona and Manchester C
David Ramos/Getty Images

Neymar was at the centre of everything in the reverse fixture back in October as Barcelona won 2-1 at the Nou Camp. 

He scored one and assisted Alexis Sanchez for the other on that occasion, per ESPNFC.

He will need that kind of performance this time around if he wants to throw off the doubters who are unconvinced that the £71 million Barcelona eventually paid for him was worth it. 

And he has the ability to put on such a display.

While 2014 has been a lean year in his Barcelona pursuits, he did score a hat-trick for Brazil against South Africa in March.

If he can get his scoring boots on and return to his elusive best he could be very influential.

He seems to be a player who rises to the big occasion and there is no bigger occasion in club football than when Barcelona take on Real Madrid.


Rise above Bale and Ronaldo

Paul White/Associated Press

Gareth Bale and Neymar both arrived in La Liga last summer and both were billed as superstar partners for the world-beating Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi respectively. 

So far this season the received wisdom seems to suggest that Bale has contributed more to Real than Neymar has to Barcelona.

This is the moment when Neymar can change that perception.

If Real run out easy winners with Bale and Ronaldo running the show, the argument will have been won.

But if Neymar can link up with Messi and dictate a win for Barca it could signal a change in momentum over the season.

Ronaldo and Bale's combined league goals total for the season is 35 compared with Messi and Neymar's total of 25, per ESPNFC

On stats alone, the Madrid pair are winning. But the destination of the title is the real battle and a performance from Neymar could propel Barcelona to just one point off the top.

Sunday's game is a huge test for the Brazilian star. A time for him to prove the doubters wrong.

And despite his recent form he has the faculties and the motivation to put in a match-winning performance.