BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said on Friday he trusted Neymar to resist being provoked by any aggressive treatment meted out by Espanyol in Saturday’s derby, as the Brazilian forward returns to action after a three-game ban.
Neymar was suspended for applauding an assistant referee after being sent off in the 2-0 defeat to Malaga on April 9.
Recent Barcelona derbies have been characterised by meaty challenges from Espanyol on their rivals, with Neymar being their main target.
Espanyol will be keen to derail Barca’s title bid on Saturday, but the coach believes the Brazilian will cope with the attention.
“He is a specialist in dealing with these situations, if there is any player who knows how to accept being fouled, it is Neymar,” Luis Enrique told a news conference on Friday.
“Despite everything, he has been sent off very few times. He is ready to play and he will be vital for us.”
Barca have a slender lead at the top of La Liga, sitting above Real Madrid due to their superior head-to-head record following last week’s thrilling 3-2 away win in the ‘Clasico’ at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Real Madrid have a game in hand, however.
The champions have coped well without the Brazilian, scoring 13 goals in the three games he was suspended, although his strike partner Luis Suarez has come in for criticism for failing to find the net in the last five games.
The coach backed the Uruguayan, the second top scorer in the league with 24 goals - behind only Lionel Messi who, with 33 strikes, has netted twice in each of his last three outings.
“I‘m not worried because you shouldn’t just judge him on his goals but on his overall play and the goals he helps create,” said the coach.
“And to judge a player on whether he has scored in such a small amount of games is a triviality.”
Barca captain Andres Iniesta is a doubt for the derby after missing training on Friday with muscle discomfort.
Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by John Stonestreet