UEFA Champions League, Barcelona vs. Manchester City: Neymar Races For Fitness

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce

Barcelona's long-awaited clash against Manchester City in the Champions League is right around the corner. Will Brazilian star Neymar be 100% to take on the Citizens?

Barcelona's newest, flashiest star was dancing down the left flank. With each flight of trickery, spectators were glued to their TV sets. They would be regretting that.

Neymar's trademark movement as he tried going past a defender was off somehow. It may have been a slight miscalculation, but he fell awkwardly on his ankle while attempting to cross. The camera, in high-defintion, ultra-zoom, super slo-mo, showed the unnatural movement of the ankle.

There's video all over YouTube and pictures on Twitter, but I'd rather not even show you. Seeing it once was painful enough.

Luckily, the injury was not nearly as bad as it looked. It's been less than a month, and Neymar is training normally. He travelled to San Sebastian with the team to face Real Sociedad in the Spanish Cup, though he did not make the match squad. If all goes as planned, Neymar should be subbed on in the league match against Rayo Vallecano.

The clock is ticking for Neymar to be ready to face Manchester City, easily the most difficult opponent Barcelona could have drawn in the Champions League at this stage. Despite some slip-ups lately, City have been dominant at home. The Etihad hosts the first leg, and Neymar may not be fit enough to start quite yet.

In his absence, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez are tasked with picking up the slack. Both are incredibly talented and hard-working, but inconsistent.

Alexis is on a great little run of form: he scored AND assisted in 4 of his last 6 games. In another, he merely gave one assist. In the last, he played just over 10 minutes. Pedro's form is decidedly less sparkling. Since Lionel Messi's return, Pedrito has scored one goal (from a Messi assist) and two assists (one to Messi) in 9 games. He hasn't scored in the past 5.

There's questions to be asked why Pedro switches off, at least offensively, when Messi is fit. After all, supplying the world's best goalscorer, or putting away opportunities he creates, should be easier than doing it with Cesc Fabergas playing as a 9.

Chances are, at least one of Alexis or Pedro will be starting in the UCL match, with Alexis easily the leading candidate. It could be both out on the pitch, however, if Neymar is not fit to start.

Barcelona boss Tata Martino has shown his willingness to stick with either Cesc Fabregas or Andres Iniesta in the forward line in big games, so it's possible that only one of the wingers will start. Maybe even none, if Neymar does indeed take up a place in the starting XI.

In any case, Pedro and Alexis will have a role to play. Just exactly which role remains to be seen.

Neymar should play against City, but how effective he will be is also up for debate. It's difficult to go missing for a month and then pick up rhythm so quickly. While it's unlikely Neymar will start, he may have a few minutes in which to torment the Citizens' defense.

In all likelihood, it would be Pablo Zabaleta lining up to defend Neymar's flank. Zabaleta is a very assured tackler, but he lacks top speed. The result of the match may at some point hinge on whether Neymar's ankle is steady enough to give him his trademark acceleration.

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