Madrid: Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino claims Brazilian star Neymar remains "one of the top five players in the world" despite his stuttering start to life with the Catalans. Neymar is expected to return to Martino's starting line-up for Barca's huge La Liga clash away to Real Madrid on Sunday after sitting out last weekend's 7-0 thrashing of Osasuna as an unused substitute.
And Martino insisted in his press conference ahead of the Madrid match that he had merely handed the striker a well-deserved rest against Osasuna after his exertions in the 2-1 win over Manchester City four days earlier. "Firstly, I think he played very well against Manchester City in the second leg and, secondly, I will reaffirm what I have said many times that Neymar is one of the top five players in the world.
"I don't need to see one match, half a match, nor even 10 matches to confirm the qualities that he has. I don't think it will be long before people stop talking about him like just another player because he isn't."
Martino also admitted that his side will travel to the Spanish capital knowing that they have to win to retain their league title having fallen four points behind Real with just 10 games to go. "I think it is probably the last chance we will have because after this game there are only nine games left and it is not the same thing to come back from one point behind to four or seven."
Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti said it made no difference to his pre-match preparation whether Neymar started ahead of Pedro Rodriguez or Alexis Sanchez for the visitors at the Santiago Bernabeu. However, he is backing Gareth Bale to outshine the Brazilian in the battle of last summer's big-money buys.
Bale was a peripheral figure as Neymar stole the show in Barca's 2-1 win over Real last October, but having recovered top form and fitness, Ancelotti believes the Welshman will make a big impact. "He is in good shape. His physical condition is very important for him and I am sure he will play very well," said the Italian.
"He is in really good condition and we are very happy with him. He had some problems at the start of the season but now he is looking good and we hope that will continue until the end of the season."
Ancelotti also confirmed that Karim Benzema has recovered from the bruised thigh that kept him out of Wednesday's 3-1 win over Schalke. The Frenchman's return means he will be join Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo in attack as the trio look to add to the 76 goals they have scored in all competitions so far this season.