Luis Enrique hails 'spectacular' Neymar after contentious Mestre comments

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The Brazilian was criticised before Saturday's game but his coach has leapt to his defence and praised his "brilliant" performance

Luis Enrique lauded the performance of Neymar in Barcelona's 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, which came just hours after some controversial comments from vice-president Jordi Mestre.

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The Brazil international was in superb form at Camp Nou on Saturday, setting up Paco Alcacer for the opening goal during a match in which he gave full-back Oscar de Marcos a torrid time.

Neymar has incurred the wrath of Athletic players in the past for perceived showboating, and Mestre caused something of a storm prior to the match when he told BeIn Sports that the forward "often provokes defenders and other rival players and that's why he gets fouled a lot".

Although Mestre later stressed that he was not trying to criticise Neymar, the remarks prompted plenty of raised eyebrows within Catalan media, especially since Barca's head of institutional sporting relations, Pere Gratacos, was sacked only last month for suggesting in public that Lionel Messi would not be as good a player without certain team-mates.

Luis Enrique had also staunchly defended the player before Saturday's game, accusing some members of the press of attempting to create a "campaign" against Neymar by focusing on his disciplinary record.

And the Barca head coach was keen to highlight Neymar's impressive display against Athletic rather than be drawn into the debate surrounding Mestre's claims.

"He did everything as normal and he was spectacular," he told a news conference. "We saw a brilliant version of Neymar and he's vital for us.

"The objective of the team is to fight to help the pressure. The forwards are the first ones who go to press.

"In order to win trophies, you have to defend well. Leaving the goalkeeper with nothing is a good omen for us."

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