MADRID (Reuters) - Neymar’s first competitive goal for Barcelona and an injury worry for Lionel Messi puts the Brazil forward in the running for a place in the starting line up at Malaga in La Liga this weekend.
The 21-year-old, who cost Barca 57 million euros, came on as a second-half substitute and nodded in at the back post as the champions came from behind to draw 1-1 at King’s Cup winners Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup first leg on Wednesday.
Barca coach Gerardo Martino has tried to keep the pressure off the youngster, calling for patience from fans, and has only used him as a substitute in last Sunday’s La Liga opening 7-0 rout of Levante and against Atletico.
The Argentine brought Neymar on in the 59th minute at the Calderon with the side trailing against an abrasive and well-organised Atletico, and he shrugged off the animosity of the home crowd to head the equaliser.
“I score very few goals with my head so for this reason I value them more,” Neymar told reporters.
“I‘m pleased with the goal because it helped my colleagues. The important thing is to help the team.”
Neymar arrived at the Nou Camp with a reputation as a flashy dribbler, and touted as a player who would help divert attention and defenders away from World Player of the Year Messi.
However, his first few performances have been relatively subdued as he has appeared keen to show himself to be a team player rather than a show pony.
By scoring an important goal in testing circumstances - Atletico had bettered Barca for best part of an hour - Neymar also displayed a predator’s eye for goal.
Messi was withdrawn at halftime in the Calderon, more as a precautionary measure because of bruising Martino said, and is to undergo further tests on Thursday.
He could be sidelined on Sunday (1900 GMT) or rested ahead of the Super Cup second leg next Wednesday.
While Neymar could be said to have helped Barca forget about Messi, it was Cesc Fabregas who actually replaced the Argentine, and the in-form former Arsenal captain, along with Neymar, helped turn the game.
“It’s good news he (Neymar) has scored. It will be the first of many,” Fabregas said.
Barca visit a Malaga side rebuilding under Bernd Schuster and who lost their opening fixture 1-0 at Valencia, while Atletico are at home to Rayo Vallecano on Sunday (1700).
Diego Simeone’s side were impressive 3-1 winners at Sevilla last Sunday and caused Barca plenty of problems in the Super Cup, taking the lead though Spain striker David Villa, who netted his first competitive goal for the club against his former team mates.
“David was really motivated and he scored a great goal,” Atletico midfielder Mario Suarez told reporters. “He had other chances too and I am sure he will score a lot more for us.”
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid have to wait until Monday (1900) for their next outing, when they visit Granada and a ground where they slipped to a surprise 1-0 defeat under Jose Mourinho last season.
Real will be without midfielder Xabi Alonso, who has broken a bone in his foot, and all eyes will be on Ancelotti’s choice of goalkeeper.
Diego Lopez, made number one by Mourinho toward the end of last season, was preferred for their league opener at home to Real Betis last weekend, when they scraped a 2-1 victory, leaving fan favourite and captain Iker Casillas on the bench.
Ancelotti hinted that the first-choice keeping slot was still up for grabs, but if Lopez is chosen again it could be a major blow to Spain’s number one as the countdown to the World Cup finals in Brazil gathers pace.
Reporting by Mark Elkington, editing by Pritha Sarkar