With five goals in a week, the Brazilian has helped Barcelona put its recent blip in form behind it and the Catalans are now five points clear of Real Madrid in La Liga.
As said with increased regularity of late, this was not vintage Barca, but boss Gerardo Marino was pleased to see his side come through another tricky test without its star man. As Messi continues his recovery from a troublesome hamstring problem in Argentina, Neymar was there to round off a wonderful week with two more crucial strikes.
"This is the victory which satisfies me most," Martino said afterward. "We miss Messi and our rivals are happy when he is not playing. We don't only miss him when we lose, we always miss him. And if he had been here, we would have played better."
|RED RAGE FOR MADRID IN PAMPLONA
|Real Madrid started strongly Saturday but couldn't cope with Osasuna's aerial threat and found itself two goals down late in the first half. And to add insult to injury, Sergio Ramos received his 18th red card as a Madrid player before the break.
Isco's goal just before halftime gave the visitors hope of a revival and Pepe leveled late in the game to snatch a point that, in the context of the match, was not a bad result.
Ancelotti was happy at how his players battled back, but was angry at the performance of official Carlos Clos Gomez for the decision to send off Ramos and his failure to award a penalty for a foul by Alejandro Arribas on Luka Modric (which could also have brought the Osasuna man a second yellow card).
"One of the Ramos cards wasn't even a foul and the penalty on Modric was clear," goalkeeper Diego Lopez said afterward. "Those decisions conditioned the game. With the score in their favor, it halted our comeback."
It may well have, and the draw means Madrid is now five points behind Barca at the top of La Liga.
Back on the left this time as Cesc Fabregas returned from his midweek suspension, the 21-year-old opened the scoring from the penalty spot following a contentious call by referee Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva, who pointed to the spot after Jordi Alba's cross struck Manolo Gaspar's right hand. "I'd like us to get penalties like that," Villarreal coach Marcelino Garcia Toral complained afterward.
His side equalized through Mateo Musacchio, when the center back outmuscled opposite number Marc Bartra to head home from a corner Barca should have dealt with early in the second half, but Neymar was on hand to tap in the winner after good work by Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez (who had both earlier missed good chances) to make it 2-1.
The Brazilian then set up Pedro for a good chance that the Spain forward flashed into the side netting from an angle and rasped a fierce drive onto the crossbar himself following a darting run and one-two with Sergi Roberto late on that so nearly brought him a second straight hat trick.
The 21-year-old's memorable night was only soured by the yellow card he picked up for taking a corner too quickly in the closing stages. "I don't know what happened, I don't understand it," he said afterward. "I didn't do anything wrong."
It was Neymar's fifth booking in La Liga and means he will miss the trip to Getafe next weekend, while he is also likely to sit out the Copa del Rey clash at home to Segunda B side Cartagena midweek as Barca leads 4-1 from the away leg.
On the evidence of the last two games, he too will be missed.