Lionel Messi vs. Neymar: Comparing Their 2015/16 Barcelona Stats so Far

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2016

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 17:  Lionel Mess and Neymar of FC Barcelona stand next to the ball before taking a free kick during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club de Bilbao  at Camp Nou on January 17, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

In January, for the first time, Neymar made it to the Ballon d'Or shortlist, finishing third, separated from Lionel Messi by just Cristiano Ronaldo.

The reality is Messi and Neymar are a lot closer than that. Barcelona's two South American stars are the best two players in the world at the moment, and it is reflected in their statistics for the season so far.

Both have played a similar amount of games, despite Messi being ruled out for nearly two months.

In late September, during Barcelona's La Liga clash against Las Palmas, Messi got hurt after just three minutes.

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona during the Primera Division match between FC Barcelona and Las Palmas on September 26, 2015 at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

He went in on goal to shoot but came under pressure from defender Pedro Bigas Rigo, injuring his knee as he tried to pull the trigger.

Thanks to Luis Suarez, Barcelona won the game, with the Uruguayan scoring twice, but the club received bad news soon afterwards, with Messi ruled out for between seven and eight weeks.

Blaugrana hearts were in Blaugrana mouths, with many fearing he would not make it back in time to face Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in November.

Messi eventually did, coming off the bench as Barcelona routed their arch-rivals 4-0 in their own backyard, but by the time he came on, the majority of the damage had already been done—symbolically, in a way, by Neymar.

The Brazilian, along with Suarez, had kept Barcelona afloat in Messi's absence, taking the creative reins and reaching new personal heights.

Despite Messi's long spell out, Neymar hasn't played that many more minutes than him, 2,246 to 1,948 in all competitions.

The Brazilian has played in 25 games, starting all of them, while Messi has featured in 24, of which two were substitute appearances.

Neymar has had his own problems with injury, most recently against Malaga. A slight hamstring issue kept him out of last weekend's clash, and various niggles have stopped him featuring all the time.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 25:  Neymar JR of Barcelona lies injured on the pitch during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and SD Eibar at Camp Nou Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

The 23-year-old suffered a problem just before the FIFA Club World Cup, which stopped him from playing against Guangzhou Evergrande, returning for the final against River Plate.

Earlier in the season, he managed to catch mumps too, which saw him ruled out of the Spanish and European Super Cups, as well as the first game of the season.

When it comes to goals, Messi and Neymar are neck and neck. Both players have found the net 20 times this season, with only Suarez (29) scoring more at the club.

Both players have scored some crucial goals, as well as the ones which have rounded out fat wins. Messi scored two free-kicks against Seville in the UEFA Super Cup, a thriller that Barcelona won 5-4.

Messi and Neymar struck against Atletico Madrid, who seem to be Barcelona's closest title contenders this season, helping the Catalans to a 2-1 win at the Vicente Calderon.

Francisco Seco/Associated Press

The Argentinian also opened the scoring in the Club World Cup final, essentially the goal which decided the game against the team from his own nation, before Suarez rounded the 3-0 win off with a couple more.

Messi's most recent goal won Barcelona three points, in a game where they barely deserved one. It was a brilliant, acrobatic volley, to sink a brave Malaga side who dominated Barcelona at La Rosaleda.

As Lluis Mascaro of Diario Sport says, even a little bit of Messi is a lot.

With the exception of his strike against Atletico, Neymar's goals have been a little less decisive, although the four he rammed home against Rayo Vallecano in Barcelona's 5-2 win earned them the points there.

He also struck two in a 3-0 win over Villarreal, sandwiching a Suarez strike, with his second goal one that will be watched again for years to come, beautifully flicking the ball over a defender, spinning and volleying home spectacularly.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 08:  Neymar of FC Barcelona scores his team's third goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Villarreal CF at Camp Nou on November 8, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

Where there is an interesting difference is in the number of assists each player has. Messi has eight, Neymar 14.

It is rare for someone to be more of a creative impetus than Messi for Barcelona, but Neymar is doing it this season.

The Brazilian has something that even the Argentinian admires, an ability like no other to beat opposition players on one-on-ones, using a terrifying combination of electric pace and extreme technical ability.

Neymar's dribble technique has reduced opponents to hacking, pushing and hitting him, with the men he has beaten trying to hide their embarrassment with violence.

Messi used to be the target of physical abuse by the teams he faced, but the focus has shifted to his team-mate. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is fouled 1.47 times per match in La Liga, per Squawka's statistics, while Neymar gets hampered an average of 3.94 times per gamemore than twice as much.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - DECEMBER 20:  Leonardo Pisculichi of River Plate fouls Neymar of FC Barcelona during the FIFA Club World Cup Final Match between FC Barcelona and River Plate at International Stadium Yokohama on December 20, 2015 in Yokohama, Japan.  (Ph
Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Although the 300-odd extra minutes Neymar has played will have an impact, it's still startling to see he has created 98 chances, compared to Messi’s 47 in the 2015-16 season so far.

It's not all in Neymar's favour though, despite these huge, key statistics showing how it is now justifiable to speak about him in the same breath as Messi.

Messi is still a more precise, thoughtful player. He has a shooting accuracy of 63 percent, compared to Neymar's 54.76. And although Messi has had several more shots than Neymar, his shot-to-goal conversion rate is lower, at 20 instead of 23.81.

The Argentinian also plays more passes, at 1,329 to Neymar's 1,331, despite playing less minutes, while his passing accuracy is 82.09, compared to Neymar's 81.29.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 17: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona makes a pass during the Spanish Super Cup second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on August 17, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Alex Caparros/Getty Images

However, these differences are not too large and also serve to reflect both players' style of play. Whereas in the past, it would be Messi making the cut-and-thrust to rip teams open, now Neymar feels comfortable taking on the burden.

That becomes extremely difficult for opponents, who now have to worry about two Messi-esque players instead of just the original. And Suarez, in between the two on the pitch, always profits.

According to Sport, Florentino Perez is desperate to break up the Messi-Neymar combination and will launch a world-record move to try and land the youngest of the pair.

Soon to turn 24, Neymar's whole future lies ahead of him. Meanwhile, Messi is at his peak, 28, turning 29 in June.

Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar (R) celebrates with Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi after scoring during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Athletic Club Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on January 17, 2016.   A
LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

This season's statistics help tangibly demonstrate what has been obvious on the pitch this season. Neymar is now at a level that most footballers can only dream of.

One day he will go on to be the best player in the world, but he must fight it out with his team-mate for the time being. Not literally, of course, and that is what will scare Atletico, Real Madrid and anyone else who has to cross Barcelona's path.

Both Messi and Neymar know that they can make the other stronger in the days, weeks, months and years to come. They are so similar that even off the field they are having the same problems; both have court dates after tax trouble.

Despite having different, but complimentary, playing styles, it is hard to separate these two almost "impossible" footballers.

All statistics from Opta unless otherwise noted.


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