MADRID (Reuters) - The prospect of facing Lionel Messi and Neymar is a daunting one for most teams but Valencia are unlikely to be overawed if the Argentine World Player of the Year and Brazil forward feature together in Sunday’s La Liga clash at the Mestalla.
Valencia’s 55,000-capacity arena can be an intimidating stage and with their baying fans behind them, Miroslav Djukic’s side will be hopeful of inflicting a first setback of the season on the Spanish champions.
They will have taken inspiration from Atletico Madrid’s success in shackling Messi and Neymar in Wednesday’s Spanish Super Cup second leg at the Nou Camp, when the pair started a match together for the first time since the Brazilian joined from Santos in the close season.
Although Barca won the Cup for their first silverware of the campaign, it was only thanks to Neymar’s goal in last week’s 1-1 first leg draw at the Calderon as a scrappy return game ended in a 0-0 stalemate.
Barca coach Gerardo Martino has been careful not to put too much pressure on the 21-year-old Neymar, who before Wednesday had played only the final 30 minutes of the club’s three competitive matches.
Expectations of an entertaining Super Cup spectacle showcasing the pair’s skills were dashed by Atletico’s negative tactics and they have yet to develop an on-field partnership Barca hope will propel them to a fifth La Liga title since 2009 and their fifth Champions League crown.
“They played a good match but it’s true that they did not link up much,” Martino, who replaced the ailing Tito Vilanova last month, told reporters.
“Although I have no doubt they will connect eventually,” added the Argentine, like Messi from the city of Rosario.
Sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta also expressed confidence Barca’s investment of 57 million euros (49.04 million pounds) in Neymar would bear fruit.
“Neymar is gradually getting into his stride,” the former Barca and Spain goalkeeper told television broadcaster TVE.
“I think we will have a lot more left to enjoy from this pair,” he added.
Valencia have been boosted this week by the arrival of pacy Colombia forward Dorlan Pabon, brought in to fill the void left by Spain striker Roberto Soldado’s move to English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.
Pabon, who scored against Barca while on loan at Real Betis in the second half of last season, said he was keen to repeat the feat on Sunday.
Barca top the standings on goal difference after winning their opening two matches, while Valencia have won one and lost one and are 10th.
“If I score great but I would be satisfied with the three points (for a win),” Pabon, 25, said at his presentation on Wednesday.
He described Soldado as a “born goal scorer” but said he hoped to demonstrate his own talent at Valencia.
“That’s why they have placed their faith in me and why I guarantee effort and fight in every game.”
Barca’s arch rivals Real Madrid, meanwhile, will be seeking a more convincing performance at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, with the team still finding its feet under new coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Real have won their opening two matches but failed to convince and last season’s top scorer at the club, Cristiano Ronaldo, has yet to open his account this term.
If Gareth Bale’s widely expected arrival from Tottenham is confirmed before Sunday, the Wales winger could make his debut against the Basques, if fit.
After their exertions in the Catalan capital on Wednesday, Atletico face a trip to San Sebastian to play fellow Champions League side Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Sociedad are on a high after sealing their place in the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in a decade thanks to Wednesday’s 4-0 aggregate win against Olympique Lyon.
Editing by John O'Brien