Neymar Must Step Up for Barcelona to Win La Liga Title

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Neymar Must Step Up for Barcelona to Win La Liga Title
Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press
Ready, steady, go: Neymar needs to pick up the pace if Barcelona are to retain the La Liga title.

If Barcelona are to retain the La Liga title this season, it'll be up to Brazilian striker Neymar to up his game.

Since joining the club last summer in a high-profile £48.6 million move from Santos, per BBC Sport, the forward has taken to life in Spain and featured regularly for Gerardo Martino's side.

But, despite notching 12 goals in 29 games, the 22-year-old still sits fifth in the Catalan giant's goalscoring charts per WhoScored, behind Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas.

David Ramos/Getty Images
Neymar must keep scoring to take pressure from Lionel Messi.

It seems to be a period of transition under Martino, as Barcelona look to move away from the side who relied heavily on Messi, as seen under Pep Guardiola, to an outfit that have an equal spread of goalscoring responsibility.

But if the side are to continue in this fashion and still remain in the hunt to retain the La Liga title, more must be asked from Neymar and his scoring pedigree of previous years, as per ESPN FC, which saw the front man net 126 goals for club and country in the four years before his move to Spain.

La Liga has reached crunch-point, with Barca sitting in second place and level on points with third-placed Atletico Madrid, while just three points behind Real Madrid. All is to play for as Neymar continues his search for his first piece of domestic silverware with his new employers.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press
Neymar still looking to impress since his move from Santos.

This, along with the large media coverage of his transfer from Brazil, which saw the youngster's parents receiving a tidy £34 million fee, has seen his name thrust into the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons in the last few months.

Although the striker could do nothing about the impending media coverage, in a tax fraud case that saw Barcelona make a voluntary payment of £11.2 million to the Spanish government, as tweeted by Guardian football writer David Conn:

The court case, and subsequent headlines, come at a time when he should be better focused on his rehabilitation from injury, rather than reading media stories that sit outside of his control.

Fabregas spoke to Marca of Neymar's impact on the side, but he highlighted that he did not know of his team mate's mental state following his big-money move:

Neymar is playing well. He is a happy, positive young guy. We don't know if all the business about his signing affects him personally or not.

Brazilian wing-back and team-mate Maxwell, who left Barcelona to join French side Paris St. Germain in 2012, also told Marca (h/t Goal.com's Stefan Coerts) of Neymar's potential:

Neymar has magic in his feet. He has put in some great performances for Barcelona. I hope he is soon able to find his best form again after his injury. 

Since his arrival, the striker's impact on the pitch has seen Lionel Messi's responsibilities as Barcelona's sole-threat diminish, along with the added forward-thinking threat of Sanchez and Pedro.

It is this kind of change in philosophy that will help Barcelona in not only this season's competition but also in future years. With Neymar offering as assistance and providing the perfect foil for his team-mates to continue to learn his trade in Spain, he can also continue to hit his own goal trail.

Neymar must find that very goal trail though, and soon, as the striker has remained largely ineffective for his side since the turn of the year, playing a less-than-impressive part in Barcelona's 3-1 defeat at Real Sociedad last time out.

The striker's last goal was a stunning effort against Rayo Vallecano, but before the match, the youngster had failed to net since his double-salvo against Villarreal back in December; form that must change if he is to justify his place in the team and continue to build on his consistency.

With goals against Atletico and Real Madrid, and a Champions League hat-trick against Celtic, it's clear that Neymar does not struggle on the biggest stages, as also seen with his assist for Dani Alves at Manchester City when coming on from the bench:

However, going forward, Neymar must continue to progress and learn from those around him and take wisdom from players who have been with the club for years; especially those, like Fabregas, who know just what it means to feature for Barcelona.

The forward has provided eight assists already this season, and with 13 games and 39 points left to play for, there is still plenty of time for any of the top three to fall foul of a poor run of form.

Elsa/Getty Images
The forward needs to translate his international form into club success.

It's important for all parties that he continues to settle and keeps his head firmly within the parameters of the football pitch and not become embroiled in matters in the media.

Something that Martino and the club's officials have managed to do so far, but with the striker's stock continually growing with each match, it's imperative that expectations are kept realistic, and that the young star is given the room to grow.

If you do that, you will continue to see the striker flourish from his excellent pedigree as achieved in Brazil, and you will see that same form continue in Brazil this summer.

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