Barcelona Can Gloss over Neymar Absence, but Will Be Exposed in Biggest Games

Paul Wilkes@@paulwilkesfootyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2014


Speaking with Football Espana, Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino suggested that Neymary's injury won't keep him out for too long.

"There might be a period without Neymar playing but thank God it is not as bad as it could have been. So we’re all calm," he said.

He is right, it could have been much worse. The way Neymar couldn't apply any weight on his foot as he hobbled off the pitch aided by the Barcelona staff in the Copa del Rey second leg against Getafe was certainly cause for concern.

Like the rest of us, Martino feared the worst and perhaps his comments were a sign of relief after suspecting that the injury might have ended the Brazilian's season.

But with confirmation arriving from the club that Neymar will be out between three to four weeks and a trip to Manchester ahead in February, that initial consolation may turn to anxiety in the next few days.

You have to feel sorry for Neymar as the skilful winger has been working very hard for Barcelona. Juggling the Confederations Cup and different football calendar in Brazil means he has had little rest time throughout the summer.

Then he made a huge transfer move to a new country, to one of the biggest clubs in the world and into a very distinct playing style.

The intricate movement and clever touches come naturally to the Samba star, but the work rate required to press high up the pitch and track the opposition's full-backs doesn't. It's a situation with which he is unfamiliar and he could offer more defensively, but he is making great strides to benefit the team.

His tricks and quick feet commit the opposition to make the foul, although at times he has been targeted. It was ironic that after being the victim of so many poorly timed challenges, his injury occurred without physical contact from another player.

Nine goals in 18 starts is an excellent return for a 21-year-old in his first season in a different continent. That he isn't a striker, has had to deal with the presence of the best player in the world and then had to shoulder the burden without him shows the level he can attain.

In the majority of matches, his absence won't be noticed. Pedro and Alexis Sanchez are more than capable of filling the void. The two wide players have 22 league goals between them and are currently the club's top scorers.

Pedro is back to his finest, whilst Sanchez is enjoying his best campaign since making the move from Udinese.

It's in the bigger matches where you will be able to tell a difference. Their only goals of huge significance came when Sanchez netted as a substitute in El Clasico and Pedro scored the second in the Champions League drubbing of Celtic. The 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid last week was illustrative of this, with Neymar and Lionel Messi on the bench.

Neymar is the only player to score against Atletico in three attempts, providing the opener against Real Madrid and grabbing himself a brace versus Villarreal. In that match with Celtic, he notched a hat-trick and has more assists than Pedro and Sanchez combined.

With away trips to Sevilla and Manchester City in less than a month, Martino will be hoping for a swift comeback. Whilst he may be available for selection against City, Neymar will probably be struggling for match fitness.

"Hopefully he will not be out too long because we need him," Messi told TV3 (h/t Football Espana) following the win over Getafe. This was a significant comment from the Argentine, fully aware of his teammate's ability to share the responsibility.

The forward had only recently recovered from a bout of gastroenteritis, so both club and country will be hoping his luck changes with the important matches soon arriving.