While Lionel Messi is still very much the top dog at the Nou Camp, he has two very capable wingmen behind him to help him perform.
Luis Suarez’s return to form has elevated Barcelona to new heights during the second half of the La Liga campaign, although his acquisition seemed to leave Neymar in the shadows for much of the season. Although, with the season coming to a close, and the Catalan club chasing the La Liga title, the Brazilian has hit a run of form just at the right time. But which of Messi’s wingmen provides the most?
Neymar seems to have cemented his position in Barcelona’s starting eleven as a left-sided forward, but rather than drifting completely wide on the left, he tends to operate more towards the centre. This allows him to be closer to proceedings and control the game more than he could in a wider position, which has in turn provided him with many more goal-scoring opportunities of late.
He already has 28 goals in just 40 games in all competitions this season – compare this to the only 15 he got from as many as 41 games in the 2013-14 season, and you can see how quickly he is developing at the Nou Camp. Neymar’s current role allows him to cut and dribble his was into the centre and unleash his favourite right-footer towards goal. This also allows him to interact with Messi who, in a False 9 position, has enough maneuverability to receive passes from the young Brazilian wingman.
Luis Suarez had a very uncomfortable start to life at Barcelona. He struggled to find the back of the net throughout the opening half of the campaign, managing just 7 goals in his first 22 games, but the ex-Liverpool striker has now found his feet and is playing the best football of his life in recent months. He has recently fetched 12 goals in as many games, taking his tally to 19 in 34 matches. The braces he scored against Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League were exquisite and marked him out as Barcelona’s ‘go-to man’ for the big occasions.
The notion of him being a self-centered and individual player is misplaced, considering the number of assists he has provided this term. Suarez has provided his teammates with a total of 52 goal-scoring opportunities, while 11 have resulted in goals. Neymar has played 6 more games, and has set-up 53 goal-scoring opportunities, yet only 5 of them have lead to a goal. The figures certainly go against the perception of Neymar as the key-passer and opportunity creator, and his Uruguayan team-mate being the one that rushes headlong into the box.
Similarly, Suarez’s position on the right wing allows him to work in tandem with Messi, who operates slightly to the right when up top. I am not suggesting the Neymar is anything short of brilliant, but he isn’t yet the finished product. The huge European experience that Suarez possesses, having spent fruitless tenures at Ajax and Liverpool, make him a much more valuable asset at the Nou Camp.
Although, Neymar has age on his side. At the age of 23, the Brazilian is 5 years younger than Suarez, and looks likely to commit his future to Barcelona. Although, there is enough time and money around for him to be lured to greener pastures at some point in his career.
While it is unlikely that Neymar will leave the club any time soon, if he was to leave he would likely bring in around £65 million for the Catalan club.
Yet, with Barcelona supposedly sniffing around the very underrated Eden Hazard, Neymar could find his spot in the XI less guaranteed in the near future. Hazard can match the Brazilian in any department – dribbling, passing, shooting, skills and the works, and with Hazard likely to cost the club as little as £50 million, he would prove good value for money, too.