Predicting How Lionel Messi and Neymar Might Work Together

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Predicting How Lionel Messi and Neymar Might Work Together
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Can Neymar and Messi Play Together?

Neymar Da Silva Santos Junior will soon pick up his shooting boots and pursue his footballing dream in Europe.

As he follows the same path as his contemporaries RonaldhinoRivaldo, Romario and Ronaldo, the eyes of the football world will be watching.

Watching and ready to pass judgement on whether we are in the presence of another Brazilian footballing legend or to pontificate as to whether the youngster's skill set isn't transferable to the European game.

With all due respect to South American club football, the standard is not quite in the same class as that of the top European sides and while Neymar's individualism and obvious talent shines like a beacon for Santos, he may have his work cut out to repeat it on the bigger stage. 

For example, the need to embarrass defenders to the point of discourtesy and the luxury of the rainbow flick needs to be reigned in a little.

No one should be suggesting that his individuality should be dispensed with entirely. However, it does need to be allied to a hard-working ethic within the team dynamic. 

To that end, if Barcelona is to be Neymar's next destination, how will he dovetail with Lionel Messi within a team noted as much for it's work-rate as it's style of football?

One of the first things he will need to work on is his discipline.

Five red cards, a penchant for reacting to on-pitch provocation and a suggestion from the player that "football is getting really boring" if things are not going his way, give the impression that a certain maturity is lacking at present.

That aside, you are at least guaranteed goals from Neymar.

Goals are a striker's food and drink but for Barcelona this season there has been a dearth of ball-in-onion-bag from other members of the Blaugrana playing staff, Lionel Messi aside.

One could argue that Messi will benefit handsomely from sharing the goalscoring load and Neymar's totals 54 in 102 games for Santos and 20 in 32 appearances for the Brazilian national team speak for themselves.

Neymar's natural wide left position should complement the evolution of this Barcelona side perfectly and would allow Messi to continue in the false nine/traditional nine role that he has become adept in performing. 

The Brazilian can slot seamlessly into the role being vacated by David Villa, who hasn't been the same player since he broke his leg and is the most likely departure (James Dickenson, Daily Express) from the Camp Nou this summer.

This leaves the likes of Pedro Rodriguez, Cristian Tello, Alexis Sanchez—should he not also be sold—and Gerard Deulofeu to battle it out for the spot on the right side.

A potent threat whenever he is on the ball, Neymar has defenders running scared.

That is a priceless commodity to possess in the modern game. Lionel Messi has that aura. Cristiano Ronaldo has it. Neymar has it.

Think of Ronaldhinho in his pomp and the performance against Real Madrid in 2005 at the Santiago Bernabeu?

The Ronaldhinho Show

If Neymar lives up to the hype, he is more than capable of reproducing similar performances of such quality.

There is, however, one important proviso.

Where once Messi was the pupil, he now becomes the teacher and lest we forget that there is no room in this Barcelona team for anyone to usurp the Argentinian captain.

He is the main man, certainly not a 21-year-old unproven at the highest level, and perhaps the hardest part of the Brazilian's new employment will be a willingness to put his ego to one side for the good of the team.

He must readily accept that he is not the finished article and should demonstrate that he has the foresight, understanding and awareness that his schooling is just beginning.

There is more than enough time for the Brazilian to attain the level that he ultimately wishes to aspire to, and his comment "to play alongside Messi would be a dream" suggests that he would be more than happy to play second fiddle to the world's best player.

Neymar's movement can unpredictable. During the recent friendly against England, Neymar had 12 first-half touches and they are shown below.

Evenly distributed across the field, it suggests the player likes the freedom to roam, but the free role is the domain of Messi at Barcelona.

Neymar's First Half Touches for Brazil vs England

Yet the thrust of the Brazilian is just the thing that is likely to benefit Messi particularly and the team as a whole.

Equally happy out wide on the touchline or comfortable moving inside, his ability to drift from his markers will open up space in other areas of the pitch which Messi—and others—are intelligent enough to make use of.

What will be interesting to note is exactly where on the pitch Tito Vilanova will think Neymar is best employed. Does the manager want him classed as a striker or an attacking midfielder? 

An immaculate taker of goals when pushed further forward, Neymar would do well to follow the example of compatriot and former Barcelona player Romario, who was devastating as an attacking force and only dropped deeper when absolutely necessary.

Will Tito require the Brazilian to curb his natural wanderlust to some degree? Can he be disciplined enough to only inhabit certain areas of the pitch thus allowing Messi to go about his work?

Or will the manager feel that the dual threat of an ever-switching front pair will provide the necessary impetus for incisive attacking intent.

Neymar could find that if he has to drop deeper to receive the ball, that a path to goal is therefore not an option that is open to him—and this is when he will need to learn to bring others into play.

To illustrate the point, take a look at the picture below from when Brazil played England in February.

Neymar vs 7 England Players

Neymar is circled to the left of the picture and cannot be considered to be in a dangerous area of the pitch.

Facing him is the sort of brick wall he is likely to encounter in La Liga and Neymar's conundrum is when to play the easy ball—as arrowed in the picture—when to drift and open up space, or when to go for the spectacular, all within the confines of the Tito Vilanova tactical plan. 

If there is a criticism of Neymar's play in general, it's probably the same critique that we can level at Barca B's young talisman Gerard Deulofeu.

More often than not, both players have a frustrating desire to hang onto the ball for too long which results in far more presentable goalscoring opportunities not being taken.

The Brazilian in particular should understand that his showmanship and trying to craft the perfect goal week-in week-out might get bums off of seats but there has to be an end product.

Lionel Messi is the best in the world. Simply, you're virtually guaranteed that he will provide that end product.

For the future, as long as Neymar is given time to settle into new surroundings, he can become a huge success at Camp Nou in much the same way as Ronaldinho was.

Los Cules shouldn't expect too much too soon. La Liga will be a far quicker tempo than he is used to, and it will take a while for the youngster to adapt his game sufficiently.

Neymar's arrival in Catalonia offers a tantalising prospect. Fans of the beautiful game should be licking their lips in anticipation.

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