With Lionel Messi not due back from injury until next month, Barcelona will again be looking to Neymar this weekend to add to Wednesday’s hat-trick against Celtic and help the champions get back to winning ways in La Liga.
Barca needed a convincing Champions League performance against Neil Lennon’s team after consecutive defeats to Ajax Amsterdam and Athletic Bilbao and the Brazil forward responded with his first goals in Europe’s elite club competition in a 6-1 romp at the Nou Camp.
Bought from Santos in the close season for a fee of close to e60 million, Neymar had been threatening to explode into life without really delivering and the 21-year-old’s performance on Wednesday, when he also assisted a Pedro goal, suggested he may have turned a corner.
Assuming the mantle of Messi would be a heavy burden for anyone, let alone a man in his early 20s, but Neymar appears anything but phased by the responsibility.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” he told Spanish television. “We are hoping that after the two bad results this victory will help us in La Liga,” he added. “Two defeats in a row for us meant a big win was very welcome.”
Barca’s shock reverse at Bilbao, their first of the domestic league campaign, erased their three-point lead at the top over Atletico Madrid and they host fifth-placed Villarreal on Saturday. Villarreal spent a season in the second division last term but have impressed on their return to the top flight. With the likes of Mexican forward Giovani Dos Santos and captain and midfielder Bruno Soriano excelling, they are likely to give Barca a stern test.
Meanwhile, Barcelona’s hopes of acquiring land from the city’s university to build a new stadium appear to have hit a major stumbling block.
Barca this week announced plans to either redevelop their current Nou Camp home or move to land owned by the university adjacent to the Avinguda Diagonal in L’Hospitalet. The club are hoping to increase capacity from the current 99,354 to 105,000. However, the University yesterday released a statement in which it denied holding any talks with the Spanish champions and reiterated its unwillingness to sell any land.
The statement on www.ub.edu read: “With regard to the stories that have been reported in recent weeks about the new movement of the FC Barcelona stadium, and what took place at the board meeting on Monday, the Universitat de Barcelona asks not to be included in this debate.
“The position of UB remains the same as expressed in its last communication of 15 March, 2012. In the case that FC Barcelona expressed its interest in any part of the university, the rectorate would tell them the position of UB on this question.”
In 2012, when it was first reported Barca had earmarked the land as a possible site for a new ground, the University stated: “UB does not do property negotiations and is not disposed to sell any of its assets.”
On Monday, Barca board spokesman Toni Freixa claimed the club would make a decision on whether to stay at the Nou Camp or build a new stadium early in 2014. He told their official website Barca had two choices: “The construction of a new stadium on the land on Diagonal, property which belongs to the University of Barcelona, or a profound remodelling project that would constitute a new stadium keeping the current structure of the Camp Nou.
“Both would have a capacity of 105,000 spectators, the stadium would be covered, there will be a construction of a new Palau with a capacity of 12,000 spectators, an adjacent court with a capacity of 2,000 spectators, 6,000 new parking spots. We’ve made advances, we have all the information and we’re in a position to make a decision.”
Despite the sizeable financial outlay that would be involved, Freixa insisted any project would not harm the club, adding: “It needs to be viable from a technical perspective, urbanist and economic. We would never submit a project that would endanger the sustainability of the club.”