May 26, 2013, 7:54 PM EDT
Happily, I was wrong about this future — speculation we were in for another summer of interminable Neymar gossip. Instead, the various entities with ownership stakes in Brazil’s biggest star decided to sell. Instead of trying to improve their negotiating stance by pursing an extension to Neymar’s Santos deal (which expired next year), the club and other investors paved the player’s route to Barcelona, even though the 21-year-old was willing to stay.
It made for an emotional scene today as Santos opened their Campeonato campaign against Flamengo at the country’s new national stadium in Brasilia. Before what was expected to be his final Santos appearance, Neymar was clearly emotional, a state the perhaps played into the team’s performance. The match produced the first 0-0 of the Brazilian weekend, Neymar allowed to see out the full 90 at a venue named after another Brazilian legend: the right-winger Garrincha.
It’s on the opposite flank where Neymar may make his mark for Barcelona, a team that desperately needs a second threat to offset their increased dependence on Lionel Messi. It’s not just that Barça’s attack has become increasingly centered on their Argentine dynamo, a process with extremes that became evident when Messi picked up an injury late in the Catalans’ Champions League campaign. Tito Vilanova team has lost all their Plan Bs. Whereas previous editions in this Barcelona run had Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, and a year of Zlatan Ibrahimovic — players who were scoring goals independent of Messi’s play — now David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, and Pedro Rodríguez are entirely dependent on Messi. Either through what Messi creates or the attention defense pay to him, Barcelona’s other goal scoring is a function of Plan A.
Of course, we’re speaking in relative terms. Barcelona has scored 111 goals in 37 La Liga games, so their attack isn’t exactly weak. By any reasonable, broad measure, it’s still prolific, but in big games, they’ve become easier to predict, their lack of variety allowing teams like Milan and Paris Saint-Germain to compete. Demurring into a deep, compact shape that declined to engage until the edge of Barcelona’s attacking third, Milan defeated Barça at home in Champions League’s Round of 16. PSG arguably outplayed Barcelona in the quarterfinals, while Bayern Munich were eventually able to counter the Catalans into embarrassment. Along the way it became apparent: Teams with the talent to compete at Europe’s highest level were having little trouble competing with Barcelona.
Barça needs a solution, particularly with defenses playing so deep, so tight that the influences of Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta are also being offset. In lieu of another experiment with a target striker, an exercise that’s unlikely in the wake of Ibrahimovic, Barcelona needs a player who can stretch defenses – somebody who can offer more of a threat than the mere width of Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba. Before suffering a broken leg in Yokohama in December 2011, Villa could have been that threat his ability to cut in from wide left and create goals a proven catalyst for the Spanish national team. Villa, however, has yet to regain his full place in the team, having scored only 15 all-competition goals this season.
Neymar has the potential to fill this void. If he lives up to his promise, the Brazilian will stretch opposing defenses, his skill on the ball giving Barça the type of one-on-one threat that can’t trusted to most right backs. Should teams decline to go out and play him, Neymar has the ability to pick his spots coming in or threaten with right-footed crosses from wide.
It’s a threat the team hasn’t had since Henry, whose second year in Barcelona produced 29 goals and 12 assists as a Plan B in Pep Guardiola’s attack. As he faded, Ibrahimovic left, and Messi gravitated toward a central role, Barcelona stopped utilizing this type of wide threat, their persistent winning ways perhaps obscuring the inevitable problem.
It may be a bit much to expect Neymar to replicate the numbers Henry produced in 2008-09, though he certainly has the talent. Still, there’s reason to doubt he can be so prolific, at least in the short-term. The jump to Europe presents unique challenges for every player, especially one leaving his country for the first time. Because of his early rise to stardom, Neymar’s been able to live a self-defining existence in Brazil, something that will change once he lands in Catalunya. Near-30-goal output is too much to ask for the coming season, which is not to say Neymar needs produce that much to be an immediate success.
On the field (or, on the chalkboard), Neymar seems a perfect fit – a player that allows Barcelona to regress to a most-balanced approach. Were they to persist as a vehicle Messi’s used to take on the world, Barcelona would face the same obstacles next season, and be equally troubled traversing them.
With the addition of a true Plan B (and what a Plan B, at that), Barcelona may be able to jumpstart its dynasty. Whether Neymar produces 30 goals or 15, as long as he scares opponents into accounting for him, he will have a huge impact on Barcelona’s success.
They still need to improve their defense, determine how to move forward with their coaching position, and improve their depth. But with the addition of a second legitimate threat, Barcelona may have solved their biggest problem – big time opposition having figured them out.
May 25, 2015, 4:46 PM EDT
Few games can make an entire season the way one victory in the Rome derby can do. Only this time, there was CL football on the line.
May 25, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
It’s time to look back at the men who shaped the Premier League’s teams this season: the managers victorious, and gone.
May 25, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT
The workers would make close to $300 a month for the full-time work.
May 25, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT
The American club wisely made its role in the advertisement understated, as it salutes its new midfielder.
May 25, 2015, 1:39 PM EDT
The Italian manager had more or less conceded his job status earlier Monday due to a bout with cervical stenosis.
May 25, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT
It’s time to take a look back at the seasons of four American players in the Premier League, and one who is no longer.
May 25, 2015, 11:56 AM EDT
It’s called the richest game in the world, with an estimated $180 million on the line, though it didn’t provide a wealth of scoring chances.
May 25, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT
Now, it’s time to take a look back at — in no particular order — 10 storylines that helped make the Premier League season a memorable one.
May 25, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT
Norwich is hoping for a quick fire return to the PL after being relegated last season, while Middlesbrough was sent packing to the second flight in 2009.
May 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
See what Robbie Earle, Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino tabbed as top of the pops in a surprisingly QPR-heavy Top Ten list.
May 25, 2015, 8:45 AM EDT
The Hammers have specific characteristics in mind for the next Premier League boss at the Boleyn Ground.
May 25, 2015, 7:54 AM EDT
Morales played sparingly for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga from 2011-12.
May 25, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
MLS is reportedly pursing the signatures of Andrea Pirlo and Didier Drogba.
May 24, 2015, 11:32 PM EDT
Roundup of Serie A’s final Sunday of the 2014-15 campaign.
May 24, 2015, 9:28 PM EDT
Final: San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 Orlando City SC
May 24, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT
Pulis on chairman Jeremy Peace selling West Brom: “I think he wants to get an investor in or someone who can financially take the club onto another level.”
May 24, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Final: NYRB 0-2 Philadelphia Union
May 24, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
Alan Pardew has seen Crystal Palace rise to snag a 10th place Premier League finish.
May 24, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT
Manchester City ended its Premier League season in second place, and manager Manuel Pellegrini is optimistic about his job safety.
May 24, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
Dortmund has its first signing in the post-Klopp era.
- 2014-15 Premier League season review: The managers 0
- Florentino Perez announces firing of Carlo Ancelotti by Real Madrid 0
- Middlesbrough 0-2 Norwich City: Comfortable Canaries back in Premier League 0
- Ten biggest storylines of the Premier League season that was 0
- VIDEO: Premier League’s Top 10 goals of the season, from A(dam) to Z(amora) 0
- Premier League final day roundup: 2014-15 season finishes with a flourish 0