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There were more than a few raised eyebrows pre-match when the visitors' starting lineup was announced and contained the name of the Brazil international, when most experts had assumed that under-pressure head coach Tata Martino would have stuck with the same starting XI that annihilated Osasuna 7-0 at Camp Nou last weekend.
However, the Argentine opted instead to recall the 22-year-old for the champions’ biggest match of their entire campaign so far, although in hindsight, perhaps Martino would have been better served going with either Alexis Sanchez or Pedro.
Neymar started the contest brightly enough, shooting straight at Diego Lopez early on from a tight angle after being slipped through on goal by Messi, but by the half-hour mark, the youngster had drifted out of proceedings as he was forced to briefly switch flanks from right to left—with little effect.
Even though the Brazilian did have a hand to play in Messi’s first goal just before the break after playing a one-two with his team-mate in the Madrid box, he was about to be given the hook when he played his most important role of the entire night with less than half an hour remaining.
Played clean through on goal, the forward found his heels clipped by covering Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, resulting in only one possible outcome, a penalty to Barca and a 19th red card for the Real skipper as Messi fired home a second equaliser on the night.
Meanwhile, minutes later, Neymar was then taken off by Martino to be replaced by Pedro, with the Barcelona boss surely glad he had not made that change moments earlier.