How Neymar Will Have to Adapt His Game to Thrive at Barcelona
The BBC confirmed the transfer as early as May—ending what many thought would become a cringe-worthy saga—and the focus will now shift to how Barca go about accommodating the Brazilian alongside Lionel Messi and company.
The speculation will continue for months—right up until the first whistle of the new campaign, in fact—and Tito Vilanova will do very well to devise a winning formula using all of his available peripherals.
The truth is, Neymar is such an individualistic player that, on paper, he doesn't slot seamlessly into the side.
Barcelona, as we know by now, are famous for their short passing, tiki-taka style. They regularly slow the tempo of the game down, complete hundreds of passes inside 90 minutes and averaged 69 percent possession across the games they played in La Liga this season.
They use techniques no other side does, such as resting in possession, and press furiously when in top form. Every player is a team player, and those similar to Neymar who have arrived at Camp Nou have experienced surgical changes to their games to fit in.
Dani Alves arrived with a big fee and a big reputation, but that didn't stop Pep Guardiola from radically altering his game to ensure he fit the system employed; Cesc Fabregas struggled immensely upon rejoining Barca despite graduating from La Masia; and Alexis Sanchez still hasn't settled after joining from Udinese two years ago.
The precedent for both success and failure has been set, and fans will desperately hope Neymar doesn't follow the latter path.
To do so he has to be open-minded and willing to learn like a sponge, and it's arguable that there is no greater learning curve in football than adapting to the Barca way.
Over the last few seasons, Neymar has carved out his preference for a role as a left forward. He's too explosive to take a full-time role as a No. 10, while he's not strong enough to hold down a lone striker's spot.
As a left forward he can drift inward to find space, use the channels, isolate full-backs and cut in to take shots. It's a perfect fit for him as a player and gives him the chance to perform in a different tactical manner each game.
He is the man at Santos, while Luiz Felipe Scolari has elected to give him a free role in the Brazilian national side. In simple terms, he's currently relied on at every level to carry his side and make the difference.
That's going to change the moment he walks through the door at Camp Nou, and he has to show humility in accepting that he's now a small fish.
The biggest question, and it's one that thousands will try to answer during preseason, is how Messi and Neymar will fare together in the same starting XI.
Messi has occupied the false-nine role for a few seasons now, and the direct running of Neymar on the left would suit the Argentine's ability to drop in and pick out a diagonal pass.
The Messi-Neymar combination could be one of the greatest we've seen, and because of this, David Villa would be wise to seek football elsewhere as soon as possible.
The recruitment of Neymar would also allow Barca to rest Messi and not face the question: "Can they do anything without him?" On occasion, Messi can take a seat on the bench and Neymar, once adapted, can run the show.
Not only would this give Vilanova some viable options, but it would also give la Blaugrana's Argentinian talisman a chance to prolong his career.
It's impossible to project, but history suggests Argentina's finest have a tendency to physically decline earlier than most. Messi's use of growth hormones clouds the picture even further, and while absolutely no conclusions are drawn here, Neymar represents a valuable insurance package in case Leo's body does a Pablo Aimar.
A large portion of Barca's game is pressing while not in possession, and while Neymar's offensive game fits like a glove in Catalonia (provided he passes a little more), his defensive contributions need to be upped.
He's an underrated worker, and far from the lazy, attack-first flair player many instantly associate with one so fleet-footed, but he will need to dial it up a notch. In turn, his fitness and conditioning will need to be worked on too.
Brazil's 2-2 draw against England proved that Neymar can produce the spectacular on occasion but also force the issue at other times. If the tempo of the game is not being played to his liking, he changes it, and that's detrimental to his side at times.
Get ready for one of the most heavily scrutinised preseasons ever; there's a chance more eyes will be cast toward Barca's progress than Pep Guardiola's at Bayern Munich.
The Brazilian sensation should be able to make an early impact provided he works hard and accepts that there's a lot to learn. The prospect of facing Barcelona just got even worse—if that's possible.
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