Nov 13, 2013, 2:25 PM EST
With the summer signing having already scored four goals and contributed a whopping seven assists in eleven matches since joining Barcelona, Neymar is to face his toughest test yet.
The weight of the soccer world will be thrust upon his 21-year-old shoulders, a load so heavy even the $76 million kid has plenty of doubters still.
Lionel Messi, the four-time reigning Ballon d’Or winner, is facing a long-term injury absence on the bench – possibly until the new year – leaving Neymar to fill the biggest boots the sport has to offer.
The Brazilian sensation has formed a wonderful strike trio up front between himself, Messi, and Alexi Sanchez. Six of Neymar’s seven assists this season have gone to either Messi or Sanchez.
But now, it will be up to Neymar to slide into Messi’s spot up front for a full six to eight weeks. His teammate and countryman Dani Alves says he was signed – nay, born – for situations exactly like the one he’s currently facing.
“Neymar is always ready,” said Alves. “He knows how important he is for Barcelona. He is aware that he was signed for things like this. With Messi’s injury, someone must take on this role, and Neymar is ready. For his name, and his qualities, he will be this player. I am sure he will give a positive response.”
Having played mostly on the left wing this year, Neymar will be given much less space up front in the middle by opposing defenses. No longer does the opposition have to accommodate for the world’s best player making slicing runs through their midfield and back line, affording space to the wingers in an attempt to patch up any weaknesses in the middle.
The Brazilian will rely heavily on teammates Cesc Fabregas, Andre Iniesta, and of course Sanchez to feed him the ball, but Neymar will need to create his own space rather than exploit that which has already given to him.
Taking the pressure off slightly is the fact that Messi’s injury couldn’t have come at a better time. With Barcelona already having qualified for the Champions League knockout phase and a soft patch in the La Liga schedule upcoming, Neymar will have opportunities to shine. But with that also comes the knowledge that any slip-ups afford naysayers even more reason to criticize.
With the international break upon us, Neymar has time to sit on his new-found role. However, come November 23rd when Barcelona returns to action against La Liga foes Granada at the Camp Nou, all eyes will be on the 21-year-old, whether he likes it or not.
From the sound of it, he likes it.
Jan 31, 2015, 4:57 PM EST
Arsenal and Southampton hope to keep their assaults on the Top Four in order, while Aston Villa and Swansea City hope to snap skids.
Jan 31, 2015, 4:19 PM EST
And to think, we’ve still a pair of Sunday matches on the slate. Let’s go through what’s done and dusted.
Jan 31, 2015, 3:40 PM EST
There were eight games in the PL on a busy Saturday. Here’s how it all went down with recaps, analysis and much more.
Jan 31, 2015, 3:20 PM EST
Manchester City’s boss thought his charges were very good, but is disappointed to snare a solitary point against Chelsea.
Jan 31, 2015, 3:12 PM EST
Lampard was the last player on the pitch, saluting both groups of supporters.
Jan 31, 2015, 3:06 PM EST
What did we learn from the tense draw at Stamford Bridge? Here’s three things.
Jan 31, 2015, 2:47 PM EST
Giving Chelsea and City’s players a mark out of 10.
Jan 31, 2015, 2:21 PM EST
All the goal scoring came within the 41st and 45th minutes at Stamford Bridge, as City failed to cut into Chelsea’s first-place advantage.
Jan 31, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Want to see Benzema’s brilliant bender? Of course you do.
Jan 31, 2015, 1:40 PM EST
Blind believes United are getting close to what LVG expects.
Jan 31, 2015, 1:21 PM EST
It started off slow and tentative, but the big match between Chelsea and Manchester City is opening up
Jan 31, 2015, 1:04 PM EST
Moyesy is learning Spanish from a Manchester United fan…
Jan 31, 2015, 12:50 PM EST
For the Toffees, defense is the way forward for the rest of the season.
Jan 31, 2015, 12:33 PM EST
“It’s always difficult to be honest when you’ve had a long break,” Defoe said. “But I’ve had a mini-pre-season and I’m getting sharper and sharper.”
Jan 31, 2015, 12:16 PM EST
Sunderland now has four points breathing room from the drop zone, and three points space from Burnley.
Jan 31, 2015, 12:10 PM EST
Walters grabs first career hat trick as R’s still searching for first road point.
Jan 31, 2015, 12:09 PM EST
Losses from QPR, Hull and Leicester keep West Brom three points shy of the drop zone.
Jan 31, 2015, 12:04 PM EST
Toffees put in resolute display to climb clear of danger.
Jan 31, 2015, 11:55 AM EST
The Red Devils ease past Leicester.
Jan 31, 2015, 11:53 AM EST
Liverpool leapfrogs its opponents on the table, moving into 7th with 38 points.
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