Neymar hasn’t played since injuring his ankle on Jan. 16, but having returned to training on earlier this week, the Brazilian star will travel with Barcelona when Spain’s leaders visit Real Sociedad on Wednesday. If you’re expecting the 22-year-old attacker to lace up his boots in San Sebástian, however, don’t get your hopes up. Gerardo Martino’s highly unlikely to risk his young icon in the second leg of Barça’s Copa del Rey semifinal.
The team has already said they don’t rush Neymar’s return, and with their starting left winger having just resumed practicing on Monday, Wednesday is too soon. With the team up 2-0 after leg one at the Nou Camp, Martino has no reason to rush Neymar into action.
So why is he traveling? According to Barcelona’s website, it’s because of the occasion. With Barça 90 minutes away from a clinching a place in April’s final, Martino has asked the whole team to travel to Basque Country. That means everybody on the club’s 25-man roster will be in San Sebástian, even though Neymar and Jonathan Dos Santos are both specifically noted as “injured.”
Though Barcelona denies it, most see the team targeting a Feb. 18 for Neymar’s return. That’s when the team will be in England to take on Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16. Perhaps he gets some time this weekend to built some match fitness, but with the team’s all-important Champions League tie less than a week away, Martino may be especially remiss to take chances with his one of his stars.
Even if Neymar doesn’t play on Wednesday, his return to training gets Spain’s leaders a little closer to something they’ve rarely experienced: full fitness. Lionel Messi, out for most of the fall, appears to be finding his stride after two goals this weekend. Andrés Iniesta is starting to shake off his knocks. Victor Valdes and Jordi Alba are back in the team, and even Carles Puyol appears to have found a temporarily patch of health.
With Neymar the team’s only major absence, things seem to be falling in place. Martino’s getting his best players out of the trainer’s room and onto the field.