There must have been a sigh of relief from Neymar after 45 minutes in Malaysia so epic that it blew the dressing room door open. During the break in Saturday’s friendly, the Brazilian had done more than enough to get a few prodders and pokers off his back and allow Cristian Tello the chance to celebrate a Spanish call-up with a half against the host country's finest.
With the notion of patience having been squeezed out of the game of football by pundits, opinion-makers and fans, every player is expected to be at their peak even before the real season has started.
Poor Neymar has endured this pressure ten-fold.
Barcelona’s big signing has had to recover from a tonsillectomy (no jelly and ice cream allowed, no doubt) and a bout of anemia. Then there’s getting back to full fitness after a summer’s break, learning to slot into the system of his new team and picking up the odd word in Spanish, all the while tracking across the globe from Poland to Asia.
It’s a wonder Neymar knows his own name in the morning, never mind which team he is going to be facing in another friendly.
The lineup for Saturday night’s match, which was eventually played on a surface to Barcelona’s liking, gave a huge boost to Neymar.
Leo Messi was not on the pitch.
This allowed the Brazilian to become one of the main focal points of the team’s attack. Instead of Andres Iniesta lifting his pale head up to pick out a pass for a certain Argentinean, Neymar was instead the target.
For much of the game the attacker was easy to find, hanging about on the left hand side of Barcelona’s forward line. There was nice variety to Neymar’s movements in this area. Being rather nifty with both feet, the Barcelona man was able to befuddle the Malaysia defence both by swinging out to the byline to ping in a cross and cutting inside to either deliver a pass or take a sneaky shot on goal.
Although Neymar allowed himself the odd treat—a lovely reverse flick to Jordi Alba and a drag back to tee himself up for a chance—he put on a very effective performance with few frills and moments of frivolity.
The goal that put the Catalan club into a 2-1 lead in a surprisingly competitive match was a beauty.
Neymar drifted into the centre of the box—where Messi would probably have been lurking, had he been playing. The assist came in from Cesc Fabregas, followed by a touch to wrong-foot the defender and a goal-bound shot. It looked easy, but was probably quite difficult to pull off.
What should also have been pleasing for Gerardo Martino was the understanding that is beginning to develop between Neymar and Jordi Alba. The pair worked well together in covering each other’s spaces and knowing when it was the full-back who was going to reach the byline. Indeed, this is a movement which led to Barcelona’s first goal of the evening, an effort from Cesc Fabregas.
All in all, a 45-minute job well done for Neymar in a match that was still just a friendly and against an opposition that packed the defence and hit on the counterattack. It was a pretty good indication of how opponents will continue to play Barca in the season to come.
Most importantly of all, Neymar will be feeling a little springier in his step after a display that was stuffed full of positives.