The Sunday Mail
IT was tight. Valencia had built a brick wall between ball and goal, and the only way to get it to Luis Suarez was with a great deal of ingenuity.Nine out of 10 players wouldn’t have thought about it, let alone pulled it off. Neymar, and the outside of his foot, did. The 24-year-old somehow found Suarez, whose subsequent shot did not do the setup justice. If Mesut Ozil had done it, the footage would have taken over the Twittersphere. The same goes for Kevin de Bruyne. Likewise Lionel Messi.
Neymar did it during his 100th appearance for Barcelona in La Liga but this piece of perfect playmaking and passing was one of many. He did the same against Villarreal previously ‒ outside of the foot, a team-mate perfectly picked out, an invitation to score.
There was the back-heel assist for Andres Iniesta against Real Madrid, and another for Suarez against Real Betis that was so outstanding it sparked a debate about whether it was intentional.
There was the on-a-plate ball to the back post for Suarez to get Barcelona’s fifth goal against Rayo Vallecano ‒ and that one was only after Neymar had scored the first four himself. There is a fantasy to his football and in 100 games for Barcelona, he has 59 goals and 30 assists ‒ a greater return than Messi managed.
The 29-year-old got 48 goals and 26 assists in his early days as he found his feet at Barcelona but the statistics show that Neymar is improving season by season. In 2013-14, he averaged a goal or an assist every 104.8 minutes. In 2014-15, it was 92.3. In 2015-16, it was 89.9. This season, it is 64.3. Neymar tends to go overlooked for his playmaking and passing, perhaps because he has Messi and Suarez by his side, but he is one of the world’s greatest at it.
When Messi is sidelined, as he was for a lengthy period of time last season, Neymar steps up. The Brazilian gets more goals and assists when his Argentinian team-mate is absent. His statistics for chances created, shots on target and completed dribbles get better, too. This week saw the Ballon d’Or shortlist announced.
It was in January when Neymar did something that no other footballer had done since 2008 ‒ he gave Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo a run for their money. Neymar didn’t win it – he finished third with 7.86 per cent of the vote – but Barcelona’s Brazilian is already at the level and getting better. He is not universally liked. Far from it, in fact. His showboating when Barcelona are beating the littler La Liga teams, for example, is seen as excessive. The no-look passes. The back-heel controls. The unnecessary nutmegs. It’s fun for him but not for his victims.
Sometimes, though, it can come in handy. He missed a penalty against Manchester City in the Champions League but then, with his team already at 3-0, he danced his way to a goal while surrounded by four defenders. Neymar signed a new five-year deal at Barcelona last week because the Nou Camp club know something special when they see it. They have someone who looks likely to be a Ballon d’Or winner in time, and it could come sooner rather than later. – Daily Mail.