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Barca look to Neymar to revive La Liga fortunes

Barcelona's Neymar (L) and Celtic's Efe Ambrose challenge for the ball during their Champions League soccer match at Camp Nou stadium in Bar
Barcelona's Neymar (L) and Celtic's Efe Ambrose challenge for the ball during their Champions League soccer match at Camp Nou stadium in Bar

By Iain Rogers

MADRID (Reuters) - With Lionel Messi not due back from injury until next month, Barcelona will be looking to Neymar 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 the Scottish side 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 60 million euros ($82.7 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 Argentine World Player of the Year 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 broadcaster Canal Plus.

"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 (1900 GMT) in the 16th round of games.

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, while another player who has been a key factor in their success is Cani.

The 32-year-old attacking midfielder has hit some of the best form of his career and was rewarded this week with a contract extension until June 2017.

AMBITION NEEDED

Defensive midfielder Tomas Pina believes Villarreal need to be ambitious if they are to get anything from their trip to the Catalan capital.

"If we did not have faith in our chances we would not bother to play the match," he said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"We are a team who if we are focused and show aggression we can compete with any rival.

"If Barca are not feeling comfortable and we can easily find ways of breaking out on the counter attack we can make life difficult for them."

Third-placed Real Madrid play at Osasuna earlier on Saturday (1500) and a win would put them level on 40 points with Barca and Atletico at the top by the time Barca kick off against Villarreal.

Atletico, like Barca and Real through to the last 16 of the Champions League, host Valencia on Sunday (2000) after fourth-placed Bilbao, eight points behind Real and one ahead of Villarreal, play at Sevilla (1800).

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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