For those expecting Neymar to fill the scoring void left by the Lionel Messi injury, there are other players to look to in hope of making up for his absence, such as Alexis Sanchez, who upon his third season at Barcelona is finally looking like the forward the team envisioned when they first signed him.
Neymar did score to cap off an excellent second half and 4-1 win over Valladolid which might have been more comfortable if the two penalties on Neymar would have actually been acknowledged by the referee during the first half, and the defense being able to defend set pieces well isn’t too much to ask for Barcelona fans hoping to finally see some improvements in the defensive game.
Barcelona won their 8th consecutive match in the La Liga, a new record for the club and now only one win shy of the league record, set by Real Madrid in 1968. Even with the rotation, keeping Sergio Busquets, Pedro and Andres Iniesta on the bench, Barcelona had no problem limiting Valladolid to only one real opportunity the entire match. The problem was that the lack of focus on corner kicks resulted in the opening goal of the match, and yet another reason to criticize any pairing Barcelona form in the center of their defense.
The match was an excellent opportunity to see how Neymar fits in the Messi mold, given a free role to roam on the edge of the box and link up with the attacking players. For now, Neymar insists on being the perfect team player, hardly going on dribbles that were a huge part of his CV in Brazil, focusing on finding open teammates first and foremost. Maybe this is just him adding aspects to his developing game,or Neymar not trying to step out of his original role with the team, which is being the Messi sidekick, even when the Argentine star isn’t playing.
Alexis Sanchez played on the right wing, but like during his best moments in his debut season in Spain, he played a lot of times in the middle. Sanchez is a winger, but he’s strong enough and a good enough scorer to play the striker role at times, as long as it doesn’t involve being with his back at goal. His wonderful first half strike put Barcelona back in the game and provided the foundation for the win. His second goal was more proof of how he has put his bad season behind him, and this season will be about more than earning praise for hard work on the wing, as he’s determined to be yet another player who greatly helps when it comes to taking the scoring load off of Messi.
On the other wing is Cristian Tello, continuing to frustrate fans no matter the wing he is placed on. Tello has fantastic dribbling skills, but he doesn’t seem to add anything to his game. Same tricks in order to get by players, and same bad decision making in the box, always too slow and often too selfish when it comes to either pass or shoot. He doesn’t work as hard as Pedro and Alexis on the wings, and all of his flair doesn’t amount to much up till now.
Barcelona continue to cruise, more or less, through the opening shallow waters of the La Liga season while giving some key players much needed rest. Even without the best player in the world, they have enough South American talent to get them through the easier matches, even if Neymar isn’t providing the kind of spectacular moments many expected from him after his signing was announced.