The search for the ideal coexistence between Neymar and Messi continues
Messi, Neymar and Suárez were, once again, key for Barça accomplishment of repeating the Liga and Cup titles. Messi, this time less of a main cog in a system different from the one of the previous year, was the man who prevented the fall in the most delicate moments; Suárez, the constant throughout the season in terms of numbers, activity and game; and Neymar, the one who took the lead when the number 10 was away because of an injury. Those two months without the Argentinean, during which the team had to play up to eight matches without their lighthouse and guide, allowed us to see the best version of the Brazilian to date, leading a candidate for every title and maintaining the effectiveness and inspiration of the team despite the colossal absence of a star. He played as a main character, assuming the role of generating the majority of the team’s offensive plays, and was supported perfectly by Busquets, Iniesta and Luis Suárez. We were able to watch him be as determinant as the most positive of our intuitions told us he could be, displaying technical precision on top of great speed added to the base of the ability for improvisation he masters. It was a Neymar who, in that time, was impossible to contain by the rivals.
Those were the Brazilian’s best months at Barça, in the League and in Europe, an insinuation in the form of appetizer that showed the dimension of the player and his abilities as banner-man, and also showed the sacrifice he accepts in a team and a system that, habitually, don’t belong to him yet. Because Neymar’s sacrifice in Messi’s Barça is not about spotlights, but about gameplay. It’s not about him being the face in the posters or not, but about not managing to find the formula that allows the best version of himself to appear when Leo Messi is playing until now. It’s a tactical issue, because there has never been incompatibility in their styles. Both speak the same language on the field and, in fact, the chemistry between them when they connect through passes is evident. The problem is that when they move closer to each other the system has not yet found a way to keep itself stable besides asking the Brazilian to give up something incredibly valuable: for his rich repertoire to be reduced to, for short, dribbling on the wing and running into free space, two actions that Barça has used in the best ways possible, but that are far away from enclosing all the football potential stored in the young talent.
Luis Enrique didn’t avoid the challenge last season. Since the beginning, everything started with Messi moving to the center, which drove him away from the cross field pass as a bridge between both wingers, and moved him closer to Neymar allowing for more short passes between them. An attempt to find the formula to use both “number 10’s”. Attempts were also made when Leo returned from injury and the impact of the most dominant Neymar was still fresh: the coach tried to use the interiors or the fullbacks in a way that would create the perfect stage for the Argentinean and the Brazilian to dance together. However, although some of the experiments achieved the purpose of powering-up both of the stars at the same time (Roma, Granada or Celta can agree), none of them got the team to enjoy the stability of before, so Neymar progressively hid himself behind the curtains, a factor probably linked to the lack of confidence, inspiration and performance from the Brazilian in the last stretch of the season. After having ridden lightly, it was time to go back to the stables.
Just like the adjustments forced by the unexpected second-to-last football burst of Iniesta, this is an issue yet to be solved, which will still be on the table after returning from vacations. Andrés himself made it clear during Tito Vilanova’s time that even if the profile of insistent, deep forward on the left wing can become really productive when activated by Leo Messi’s left foot, that’s not the only way in which that position can be useful to the Argentinean. With Iniesta where Villa and Henry had stood, La Pulga sealed his best goal-scoring record to date. And it’s all because Leo is infinite: with or without a striker, with Xavi or Rakitić, in counterattacks or in front of a packed defense and, surely, he will also be so with the truest possible version of Neymar that we could get. A more similar one to what he showed us during the months of October and November. We just have to find the way and for it to be effective for both of them and the rest of the team. It’s not easy. In the meantime, it seems like they tried and couldn’t find it this season. In a month, a new season will bring new chances.
Translator: Daniel Ramos
– Photo: Alex Caparros/Getty Images