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Monday August 26, 2013 MYT 7:27:01 PM
Monday August 26, 2013 MYT 7:27:14 PM
by iain rogers
Barcelona's manager Gerardo Martino arrives at Don Muang International Airport, ahead of Wednesday's soccer friendly against Thailand's national team as part of Barcelona's Asia tour, in Bangkok August 5, 2013. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona have been keen to avoid overburdening new signing Neymar but Wednesday's Spanish Super Cup second leg at home to Atletico Madrid may see him included in the starting lineup for the first time.
Coach Gerardo Martino has left the Brazil forward on the bench until the final half hour of all three of the Spanish champions' competitive games this term following his close-season move from Santos for 57 million euros ($74.09 million).
He netted the equaliser in last Wednesday's Super Cup first leg at the Calderon with a fine header to secure a 1-1 draw, but was on the bench again for their 1-0 win over Malaga in La Liga on Sunday.
With World Player of the Year Lionel Messi possibly coming back from injury and the home crowd behind him, the return match against Atletico may be the ideal moment to deploy the 21-year-old from the off.
Neymar showed off some of his trademark skill and pace in their nervy win at Malaga and tested home goalkeeper Willy Caballero with a curling free kick before seeing a deflected effort fly narrowly over.
"I don't know how much time is left," Martino told reporters after the Malaga game when asked when Neymar would be ready to take his place in the starting 11.
"What I do believe is that mentally he is ready and we will decide on the right moment," added the Argentine, brought in last month to replace the ailing Tito Vilanova.
"The good thing is that he plays half an hour and in that half an hour he always does something positive for the team."
Breaking Neymar in gently has been a wise move from Martino and the Barca staff given the intensity of the club's matches and his relatively slight physical stature.
He was again the target of a series of robust challenges during Sunday's game and did well not to react when Malaga fullback Jesus Gamez appeared to butt him in the face.
Given the lack of cutting edge Barca showed at Malaga's Rosaleda stadium and the possible absence of Messi on Wednesday, Martino could well be tempted to deploy Neymar instead of Cesc Fabregas, Pedro or Alexis Sanchez.
"We did not sign Neymar for one or two games but for a number of seasons," sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Canal Plus after the Malaga game.
"Just because Messi doesn't play doesn't mean he has to play," added the former Spain and Barca goalkeeper.
"He is showing great ability to adapt to our team and our league and when he is 100 percent integrated we will see more of him."
Atletico warmed up for their trip to the Catalan capital with a 5-0 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano in La Liga but know that getting the better of Barca at their giant Nou Camp arena is an entirely different proposition.
Coach Diego Simeone, a compatriot of Barca counterpart Martino, is expecting the same intensity from his players they showed at the Calderon on Sunday to steamroller their city rivals.
"We don't know how to play any other way," he told a news conference. "We maintain this high tempo and we feel comfortable with that."
The Super Cup pits the La Liga champions against the King's Cup winners.
Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid beat Barca to win last year's competition on away goals after the two-legged tie ended 4-4 on aggregate.
Barca won three in a row under Pep Guardiola from 2009-2011, while Atletico last won in 1985 when they beat Barca.
The last time the Cup winners beat the league champions was in 2007 when Sevilla overcame Real Madrid.
(Editing by Toby Davis)
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