Everyone is still waiting to see Lionel Messi and Neymar on the pitch at the same time, but for now, even without the combination of the two stars, it’s working, as Barcelona were more or less saved by the Brazilian coming off the bench, while the Argentine had to leave the match early because he was taking too much of a beating.
Messi spent only 45 minutes in the first leg of the Supercoppa against Atletico Madrid, marked closely and aggressively by two players for the entire first half. Barcelona are going to limit his minutes this season, which is good news probably, but no one expected to see him leave so soon without actually doing anything.
Neymar came on to play after 58 minutes, sending Pedro to the bench. This was one of those matches (ending in a 1-1 draw at the Vicente Calderon) in which Pedro plays in full speed, but someone was pressing on neutral without him noticing. The hard work and pressure didn’t pay off, as the aggression and commitment from the Atletico Madrid players, who closed down space at lightning speed and hardly allowed Barcelona any meaningful ball movement in the danger areas during the first 60 minutes, cancelled out what usually pays off for the winger.
Neymar didn’t do much as well, but the Atletico defense was a bit worn down when he came on to play, and he didn’t try to take anyone head on. Neymar is still missing a few kilos of muscle from his body, but he’s quick, elusive and agile enough to get away from defenders, finishing a cross from Dani Alves, who was having a terrible match on the right wing, to score his first goal for Barcelona in an official match.
Barcelona never really took control of the match until Gerard Pique started finding himself a lot more involved in the build up, while Jordi Alba started taking a bit more caution in his pushes forward. Atletico decided to gamble and leave Dani Alves as the free man, which worked quite well for them, as almost every touch he had on the ball turned out to be a wrong one, except for the assist to Neymar, resulting from some nice passing and vision by Xavi.
Atletico and maybe Real Madrid are the only teams in Spain who can create this much defensive pressure against Barcelona in the La Liga, which means it isn’t that much to worry about. Lionel Messi will have better days, and next time there’s a good chance Neymar doesn’t start the match on the bench. On the other hand, it’s hard to see Atletico putting on a more efficient display against a team they’ve been losing to quite a lot recently, like the rest of the clubs in Spain.
Those worried about Messi shouldn’t be. A hamstring injury? Hardly. Barcelona are simply taking it very easy with him, and not using him when they don’t need to. Even though Neymar might continue to prove there’s insurance for the goalscoring in case Messi is injured or unavailable for more than one match, it doesn’t seem like teams can feel relieved about not having to face the best player in the world for now.