Madrid - With Lionel Messi firing on all cylinders again,
Barcelona's Champions League challenge is very much alive but coach Gerardo
Martino would be much happier if marquee signing Neymar was not on such patchy
Messi scored his eighth goal in five appearances in the
latest edition of Europe's elite club competition in Wednesday's 2-1 win at
home to Manchester City, which sent the Spanish champions through to the
quarter-finals for the seventh straight season, 4-1 on aggregate.
It was a typically brilliant piece of skill from the
Argentina forward as he dinked the ball over City goalkeeper Joe Hart in the
67th minute, his 28th goal of the season during which he has spent two months
on the sidelines with a thigh injury.
Neymar started the last 16, second leg match at the Nou Camp
instead of Alexis Sanchez and Pedro, who have both been on good form this term,
but the Brazil forward squandered the chances that came his way and turned in a
generally disappointing performance before making way for Alexis 10 minutes
Out for several weeks in late January and early February
with a twisted ankle, Neymar has only scored once for Barca since the turn of
the year, the sixth goal in a 6-0 La Liga drubbing of minnows Rayo Vallecano.
It is hard not to think that the controversy surrounding his
move from Santos in the close season, which has prompted charges of
misappropriation of funds and tax evasion, and the pressure of playing for one
of the world's richest clubs are having some effect on the 22-year-old.
It must also be perplexing for Martino that Neymar can head
off on international duty and net a hat-trick in a friendly against South Africa
this month but fail to step up when he pulls on the Barca shirt.
Martino defended Neymar at his post-match news conference on
Wednesday and noted the player was still working his way back after the ankle
"Neymar made a big contribution to the team and did
some great work helping in defence," the Argentine told reporters.
"In the first half he had two good chances and the
process of rejoining the team means he still can't manage the 90 minutes."
However, Barca did not buy Neymar to help out in defence and
they will be expecting more from him as the season enters a crucial phase with
the club still alive in all three competitions they are contesting.
Chasing a fifth La Liga title in six years, they are four
points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid in third and play at their arch
rivals on March 23.
The Champions League quarter-finals, where they could be
drawn against Real, are at the start of April and they meet them again in the
final of the King's Cup on April 16.
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