Neymar opens up a whole new dimension for himself when the responsibility of creativity falls on his shoulders. The experience is obviously there, as seen in his international performances for Brazil. He is the captain of the Selecao after all, but is he involuntarily restricted at Barcelona?
With Barcelona, he’s got two demigods as his team-mates in Messi and Suarez, who not only help lift the load, but more often than not restrict Neymar’s role to that of a ‘finisher’. There’s nothing wrong with it, obviously. In fact he has excelled at that role too, as seen last season, when he scored 39 goals in all competitions for Barcelona.
Neymar is an incredibly gifted player whose dribbling and creativity are at the forefront of his list of impressive skills. But, at Barcelona it looks like those have taken a backseat. One might argue that Messi provides enough creativity for the team, and that if two players try to emulate the same trick, they’ll get in each other’s way. True, but teams have wised up to the act of that ‘dink’ pass over the defense for Neymar this season.
Another glaring observation from last season was the ‘lack’ of assists from Neymar to Suarez. No implication whatsoever that there is anything wrong with the duo, but that Neymar almost always, always, tries to find Messi, whether he’s surrounded by defenders or not. ‘Pass the ball to, arguably, the best player’ is a sound plan, but even the opposition knows that, and that’s why Messi invariably attracts defenders to him.
There were instances where Suarez was in a better position compared to Messi, and yet the ball was passed to Messi. Granted, Messi can probably wing it in Barcelona’s favor and convert it into a chance, but passing it to Suarez might have given them a better and a more clear-cut chance, and not to mention it’s Suarez.
All of this changes when Messi is not on the field and Neymar voluntarily takes over the burden of ‘creation’. In his last 5 matches he’s got 5 goals and 5 assists, in all competitions, and does not look like he’ll slow down anytime soon. 3 of those assists were to Suarez.
It is admirable that he stepped up when Barcelona needed him the most, and in doing so he has shown that he is more than capable of doing what he does at Brazil. Take charge.
It is a very small sample size to start making concrete conclusions when it comes to how effective Neymar can be when he is the ‘driver’ of this team, but so far the signs seem positive.
As seen in a couple of matches recently, Neymar drops further back than normal, prefers the ball to come to his feet rather than taking it in stride, and attempts more long balls across the field. He is getting more involved in the build-up play than normal, and it’s shown.
Last season Neymar created 52 chances in 33 Liga games, and this season he has already created 27 chances in just 8 Liga games. It’s safe to say that he is en route to beating last season’s numbers in this particular attribute.
The ability and potential is there, it’s just a question of utilizing it effectively.
Neymar needs to break free from that primal urge he gets to pass to Messi every time. He needs to bring his international team’s form and mojo into Barcelona when necessary. So far, it looks like Barcelona can get a great deal more out of Neymar than what they have so far.
Is Messi hampering Neymar’s ability to unleash his full prowess?
No, if anything it’s doing Neymar a world of good by helping him mature as a player. But, letting Neymar take the driver’s seat once in a while is not just helpful for Neymar’s growth, but also for Messi and the team.
Nothing as drastic as changing the entire system by making every chance come from the left from now, but more along the lines of, ‘let Neymar drop back and take charge of the game when Messi gets crowded out’, ‘Let Neymar put Messi through on goal with that ‘dink’ pass’.
A team which has won everything cannot follow the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” policy in this day and age. Evolution is a necessity now, not a choice.