Neymar: Complete Analysis of Brazilian's Barcelona Role

Samuel Marsden@@samuelmarsdenFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2013

Barcelona might have lost their last two games, but they're the only games they've lost this season out of the 22 they have played—and Neymar has featured in 20 of them.

The Brazilian star arrived in Catalonia towing the company line that he had not arrived to upstage Lionel Messi.

'I'm here to help and to help Messi to continue to be the best player in the world,' The Daily Mail reported him as saying.

And while him being there has not, bar the odd assist, visibly helped his Argentinean colleague too much, the presence of Messi does seem to bring out the best of Neymar. With Messi out injured, the opposition can focus more on Barca's No. 11.

"I hope [Messi] gets back on his feet as quickly as possible so he can help us on his return," Neymar told Mexican television channel DeportTV (h/t ESPN). His return should signal a return to the fore for Neymar too.

Sans Messi, there is more focus on Neymar and he has been halted in his tracks in the last two matches, the defeats against Ajax and Athletic Bilbao.

There are, of course, obvious anomalies, such as when he sparkled in a 4-1 win against Real Valladolid, but, on the whole, Neymar's best performances have come on the left of a front three which has featured Messi.

Some are keen to press the idea that Neymar wants to play down the middle—he's not said as much yet—however he looks most comfortable in the blaugrana shirt when he lines up on the left, which is most of the time.

And it is there where Neymar looked best for Barca—against Real Sociedad, Sevilla, Real Madrid and Real Betis.

By September it was evident that Neymar was quickly adapting to his new surroundings.

"He's working very hard for the team, even when defending," Gerardo Martino told the press (h/t ESPN) after a win against Sevilla at Camp Nou. "We're very happy with what he adds to the team."

In playing on the left, Neymar tends to have a lot of space to work in.

To take the Ajax home match in the Champions League—when Barca won 4-0—Messi and Alexis Sanchez's average positions, as shown on the UEFA website, were both so far to the right, that it creates masses of space for Neymar on the opposite flank.

That has seemingly developed into Martino's favoured front three.

As of yet, Neymar is not yet using that space to score goals, but he is setting up plenty of chances. Squawka statistics reveal he has created 30 chances so far this season, leading directly to nine goals.

Once—if?—he adds goals to that tally, then maybe people will start contemplating that he will eventually usurp Messi. Talking to SportTV, former Brazil right-back Cafu reckons we're not too far away from that point already, via The Mirror:

"Give him two years at Barcelona. Then Neymar will surpass Messi and Ronaldo."

At the moment though, the youngster seems happy to be knuckling down and working hard in a bid to prove himself in a new league on a new continent.

Squawka stats also show that he's regularly fouled—51 times so far in La Liga alone—but that he's also prepared to work hard tracking back, tackling and competing in the air. "Even when defending," as Martino said.

One thing that won't have helped him so far though is the lack of consistency at left-back.

Jordi Alba started the season there, but has been injured for a lengthy period since. It's led to Martin Montoya and Adriano spending time there—you can't help but feel the chance to strike up a relationship with Alba would have been more beneficial for club and player.

However, all things considered, it's been a good—maybe not spectacular, the odd moment aside—start for Neymar in the Catalan capital.

His heat map from the Clasico match against Real Madrid, when he scored one and created Alexis' winner, reveals his current role within the team perfectly. He hogs the touchline, before looking to cut in when he arrives in and around the 18-yard box.

His pace, but not just his pace, also his ability to stop-start has caused right-backs problems time and time again.

Currently, his tactical role with in the side is a largely team-focused role, with little emphasis on him being the star. Sure, he makes the wrong decision at times, but he's a 21-year-old in a team with which the nucleus has been together for five years now.

What will be interesting is how his role, and the roles of his teammates around him, adapts as he blossoms into a better player.


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