Grading Neymar's Performance for Brazil vs. England
Fresh from long drawn out transfer negotiations with Barcelona and an emotional goodbye to Santos, tonight's Brazil vs. England match afforded us all the opportunity to study Neymar getting back to doing what he does best.
Would he light up the newly refurbished—but not quite fully finished—Maracana Stadium?
Or would the more physical English style dilute his performance to such an extent that he would be largely ineffective—as at Wembley a few short months ago?
In assessing various areas of Neymar's performance, I've used the grading system below.
Let's take a look at how he fared in tonight's game.
B—Nearly perfect performance
C—Very high production
G—Worse than average
H—Very little production
I—No production whatsoever
Goals are Neymar's currency. One that he has cashed in handsomely over the years.
Tonight against England, the paying Brazilian public and worldwide audience were no doubt looking for a purchase or two from Barcelona's newest signing.
His first chance was a scissor kick when unmarked on four minutes. That the ball fell slightly behind him meant that he was unable to generate the power required for what would've been a certain goal.
A free kick on nine minutes just outside of the England area then provided Neymar with the perfect platform to raise the roof in the match. His shot once again lacked power and fell safely into the arms of goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Another set piece just a couple of minutes later afforded the Brazilian an instant chance for redemption yet this effort was far worse than the first.
Only 17 minutes had been played when Neymar was in again taking down a high cross beautifully, moving inside Glen Johnson's tame attempt at a tackle, only to see the alert Hart smother his shot.
A cheeky shot through Johnson's legs not long after when Fred was much better placed was a little wasteful, and a curler after shaking off Michael Carrick deserved better than being placed just wide of the goal.
Aside from a half chance just into the second half there was little further goal threat—but that shouldn't detract from the rest of his performance.
We've come to know that Neymar operates most effectively in the free role and, my word, did he work well in exactly that role this evening.
His movement was a joy to watch, absolutely first class.
As the game began, Neymar could be found in a typical "No. 10" position, yet as the game went on, he popped up everywhere.
His intelligent drifting across the whole of the front line opened up space for colleagues at will in what was a better first half for the hosts.
Neymar's awareness and appreciation of space was particularly impressive.
England had set up with a fairly rigid back four complemented by a midfield four.
If Neymar was unable to be in a position to receive the ball in between those two banks of players, so he would start to pull defenders out of position to the left or right side.
No particular part of the pitch was his domain tonight, Neymar patrolled all areas with diligence and common sense.
Link Up Play
Another area where the player impressed was with his link up play.
Often cited as too individual, Neymar played simply and effectively all game and looked to link with colleagues at every opportunity.
Early in the game, the player showed his intent after closing down Leighton Baines on England's left side before rolling in a lovely ball for Hulk—only to see the chance wasted.
Later in the first half, a great curving run to stay onside saw him receive the ball wide on the left side and release immediately to Oscar who—like Hulk—should have done better with a presentable chance.
Other notable passages of play were a scooped pass into the area on the hour mark and a lovely weighted ball for Lucas to run on to late in the game.
In general terms, Neymar's all-around passing game was of a very high standard.
Another area where Neymar impressed was his work rate during the match.
On a number of occasions, he could be found back in his own half foraging for the ball to bring further attacking opportunity for his side.
If the ball didn't come to him, then Neymar went looking for it.
Comfortable and at ease when in possession, he was dogged in his determination to win the ball back when it had been given away.
His closing down of Michael Carrick on a number of occasions was particularly satisfying to see.
As late as the 85th minute, Neymar could be found forcing England's forward movement back into their own half.
Crowd Pleasing Moments
Given his propensity for the spectacular, it was perhaps something of a surprise that there were none of the usual "flicks and tricks" in evidence from Neymar today.
The nearest we came to a "Neymar-esque" moment in fact was the scissor volley from very early in the match.
You sensed that the crowd expected great things as soon as the player was on the ball, and the fact that he chose to continuously play the safe and sensible option may not have gone down too well with the paying customer.
Yet it clearly shows a more mature side to his game—which he will need to cope with the demands of the European game.
Defensive Responsibility/Tracking Back
Probably the only area that could have been improved upon significantly.
Neymar is not known for his defensive nous; however, it is certainly a tool he will need to revisit and refine before stepping out on the pitch in a Barcelona shirt.
There were pockets of this match where the player was quite "busy" in his own half, closing down Michael Carrick as well as others with aplomb.
On 75 minutes, for example, Neymar had tracked right back into his half to win the ball for Brazil and was promptly fouled by the on-rushing Phil Jones who was yellow carded.
More often than not, you would only find the player patrolling the midfield and striking areas of the pitch.
A little lightweight in the tackle, he was bullied off the ball on a few occasions.