The call to prove that he can carry Barcelona on his back has been answered by Neymar, scoring five goals in two matches, and also showing he can make it happen despite some bad tactical decisions from Tata Martino, for some reason returning to the uber-possession concept that has proven more than once to be slightly outdated.
Barcelona aren’t supposed to find themselves mixed up in a rough battle at home, but their negligence and focus on keeping the ball instead of pushing it more and more into the box, which is easier to do with Neymar, Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas on the pitch, almost cost them another victory which would have possibly meant losing their hold on the top spot.
However, Neymar made the most of what was given to him – first a penalty kick after a handball by Mario Gaspar, and later a perfect pass from Cesc Fabregas to Alexis Sanchez, in return finding a wide open Neymar in the middle of the box for an easy goal.
So Fabregas made a genius pass, but having him, Busquets, Iniesta and Alex Song on the pitch together was a bit much for a Barcelona team that needs more assertiveness and incentive instead of caution and slow build up. Villarreal hardly touched the ball (76-24 possession numbers), but Barcelona were rarely dangerous, as Fabregas might be listed as one of the front three but plays a lot closer to a diamond in the midfield that doesn’t really push the team forward.
Things did look better once Xavi entered the match, allowing Fabregas to move forward, mostly to the left, while Neymar and Sanchez finally created some presence in the box, but this shouldn’t be too shocking news for Martino. who has been trying since the beginning of the season to change the ways of the team, but has fallen right back into the tempting trap of playing in the same way his predecessors have, which has become a precursor of success but a limited one.
Barcelona need presence in the penalty box. Without Lionel Messi, they have to try and do some things like most teams in the world, which is overloading the danger area instead of relying on brilliant passing and 1-2’s which everyone seems to be predicting. Fabregas’ assist was a change – a long diagonal pass with three players waiting in the box. Something we hardly see from Barcelona. It’s understandable when Messi is on the pitch, because he does make such a huge difference, but with Neymar, Sanchez and even Pedro, when he does get to play, there’s no reason no to try and make the most of the three man front for more than just pressure on their rivals.