Neymar’s ethereal flair isn’t news to anyone, yet somehow, it never ceases to surprise the audience.
Since his early days at Santos, the Brazilian has been one of the most astounding sources of entertainment in world football — an extremely talented jogo bonito artist, whose antics in the field fall nothing short of fantastic. And at Barcelona, that talent has become the key to unlocking the potential of one of the world’s most fantastical teams.
On Sunday, fans at the Camp Nou got a clean taste of that as Barcelona beat Villareal by 3-0 in a match in which Neymar, with two goals to his name, stole the whole show. His stats, as reported by Squawka: 8 crosses, 6 take-ons, 6 chances created, 4 shots, 2 goals.
The former Santos man had a dynamic start to the game. His incessant and treacherous running began to drill holes on the right side of Villareal’s defense since the first minute. He was almost uncontested. Barcelona looked somewhat dull in attack and have struggled to manage the tempo of their positional offensive play. Yet, Neymar kept his teammates, like the audience, on their feet with the feeling that something could happen at any moment.
That has been a constant of Barcelona’s season since Messi got injured in late September. The team hasn’t always looked full of ideas going forward, but Neymar has been a consistent source of inspiration for his teammates, and a persistent threat for his opponents — a threat that usually materializes.
That was just the case in the 60th minute, when, after being found in the clear by Sergio Busquets, he put in a perfect finish to open the scoring. As it is often, Barcelona only needed one break to open the rival team’s defensive gridlock – and as Neymar gave it to them, they took full control of the game.
But that was only a small part of the Neymar show. As the game carried on, and Barcelona became even more comfortable going forward and the Brazilian began to find more space for his tricks and dribbles. That all culminated in the 85th minute, as he completely lifted the ball over the defender standing behind him to then spin and slot a first-touch shot into the net for a magnificent finish.
Now, Neymar’s form isn’t a thing of just one game – if you’ve been watching him on a constant basis, you know that his level has been building for a while. In the last seven games, he has amounted an unbelievable personal record of 10 goals and six assists.
The forward also averages 4.5 dribbles per game in La Liga – the highest for anyone in the division with the exception of Messi – and six dribbles per game in the Champions League – the most out of anyone on his team. And with an average of 4.2 infractions received per game, he is by far the most fouled player in the Spanish first division.
But in the case of Neymar, as fans were able to contemplate on Sunday, the appeal goes way beyond what his numbers look like on a spreadsheet. His importance is not only about the things he does, but also about the way in which he does them. Neymar’s ability to do the unthinkable, and his unbreakable confidence in that ability, are Barcelona’s main engine, as the team awaits Messi’s return.
After Sunday’s match, Neymar wasn’t able to hide his happiness after his fantastic performance.
“I’m very pleased. I think I can give more, I think I can play better, and give more every day, next to my teammates, of course,” he told BeIn Sports.
That improvement of course, will be key, especially as the match against Real Madrid draws near, without any signs of Messi’s recovery.
For now, though, Neymar says he thinks only about the upcoming international break and Brazil’s South American qualifiers.
“We have much to think about. For now we rest. We have to be with our international teams now, and then we will go back to thinking about La Liga,” he said.