This is what Neymar was brought for. The moment Lionel Messi is either injured or marked too tightly, it should be the Brazilian’s turn to be the man for Barcelona, who have struggled anytime their best player was missing or taken out of them match by an opponent’s defending.
Lionel Messi will miss matches for the next couple of weeks, which means Neymar is no longer part of a rotation. Barcelona will probably use Cesc Fabregas in Messi’s position with Neymar remaining on the left, but the focus of the attack will start shifting to Neymar’s wing.
There is still the Barcelona way of doing things, especially if Xavi is on the pitch. It means no one goes on individual dribbling like Neymar loves to do (and is sometimes at his most effective that way), but Neymar has gotten himself more and more involved in that system, not feeling like an outsider anymore in terms of his football instincts.
There are plenty of things Lionel Messi brings to Barcelona’s overall style is simplicity. He’s one of the few players on the team that isn’t afraid of taking a shot at goal. At times it looks like the entire team is making all the effort in the world to avoid taking a chance and would rather pass is along to Messi. It isn’t such a bad idea, but it does make things quite predictable.
With the international break coming up, this means only two matches, probably, of Neymar being the focus of attention, but it’ll still call for some changes. It’ll probably mean we’ll see Neymar drifting a lot more into the middle from different angles than before. It looked like all this time since arriving at the Camp Nou it’s been a rare sight to see Neymar leaving his wing in order to take a shot, while most of his departures have been to link up with Messi and provide him with assists.
After all, Neymar isn’t a real winger. He’s a forward who loves to begin plays on the left, but he didn’t score 136 goals in 225 matches for Santos just for being a pass-first or even “only” kind of player. Barcelona brought him in to score goals when Messi is held up or missing, and it will be very surprising to see the same limited Neymar we’ve seen from his first few matches for his new club.
Unlike Messi, Neymar won’t be dictating play or involved in the short passing game as much. That should be still focused with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas. Neymar will probably be instructed to make a move into the middle every time Fabregas drops back and hopefully carries a centre back with him, leaving Neymar in a one on one situation.
There are more creative options to take advantage of this situation which can include using Neymar or Alexis Sanchez as the central forward of this lineup, but Gerardo Martion has opted to make as few changes as possible from what’s worked very well in previous years. Neymar is somewhat of a game changer to this formula, but even he needs to be used the right way in order to become the Messi replacement he was signed to become.