Real Madrid: How Will Neymar Fit?
Although there has been no official statement from Real Madrid or Santos, it looks as though the Neymar transfer saga has come to an end. ESPNsoccernet reports that the Brazilian starlet is set to join Los Blancos in the summer of 2012.
Touted as one of the best young players of the generation, Neymar has drawn serious interest from the elite European clubs. Barcelona and Chelsea emerged as serious contenders for the Brazilian's signature, but it seems that the Santos star will be wearing the famous white shirt of Madrid next season.
As the first blockbuster signing of the José Mourinho era, there will be unbelievably high expectations for the £53 million-rated Neymar at the Santiago Bernabéu.
As Real Madrid look to the future, how will Neymar fit in and what will be his role with Los Blancos?
Withdrawn Forward in a 4-4-2 System
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With his skill and goalscoring ability, Neymar has developed into a dynamic forward capable of playing in multiple positions. Although Mourinho has exclusively used the 4-2-3-1 system since taking over as manager in 2010, the Brazilian star could force the Portuguese tactician to consider a change in formation.
In a withdrawn role, Neymar would be given more freedom to take up dangerous positions and drift into pockets of space. With Cristiano Ronaldo's tendency to move inside, the Brazilian and Portuguese stars could seamlessly swap positions as well.
While Neymar would give Madrid another goalscoring threat in the attack, it is unlikely that Mourinho will switch to a 4-4-2 formation. Kaká and Mesut Özil would be forced to play out wide on the right, and they would have to compete with natural winger Ángel di María for a regular place in the starting XI.
Neymar could play as a withdrawn forward for Los Blancos in 2012, but Mourinho will hesitate before moving Kaká and Özil out of their preferred central playmaking roles.
Wide Forward in New 4-3-3 System
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Following the signing of Nuri Şahin this summer, there was some thought that Mourinho would change to a new 4-3-3 system. However, the central midfielder suffered a knee injury in preseason training, and has yet to make his full debut with Los Blancos.
Although the Portuguese tactician has continued with his favored 4-2-3-1 formation, the arrival of Neymar next summer will give Mourinho the perfect set of players for a true 4-3-3 system.
Şahin, Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira would provide a great balance of passing ability and defensive work-rate in midfield. This three-man midfield will give Madrid's attacking trio more attacking freedom and less defensive responsibility.
Los Blancos would have a dangerous attacking trio, with Benzema or Higuaín as the central striker, and Neymar and Ronaldo as wide forwards.
The two wide players do not have great defensive work-rates or show determination to win back possession. Therefore, by playing with three central midfielders, Mourinho could get the best out of Neymar and Ronaldo's attacking talents.
Although Mourinho will most likely experiment with this 4-3-3 system in preseason, there is no guarantee that the Brazilian will be the first choice forward opposite Ronaldo. Even though Neymar is the best natural fit for a true 4-3-3, Özil, Di María and Kaká will be fighting for places next summer.
Goalscoring Winger Opposite Cristiano Ronaldo
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If Mourinho stays with the 4-2-3-1 formation next season, Neymar could be the winger to start opposite of Ronaldo. Until recently, there was concern that Real Madrid were overly dependent on Ronaldo, Benzema and Higuaín to carry the goalscoring burden.
Over the past few weeks, Kaká has provided another scoring threat from the attacking quartet. However, if Özil reclaims his regular place in the starting XI next season, Los Blancos could lose that added dimension going forward.
Although Di María has been in superb form recently, Neymar could become a first-choice winger in 2012. The Brazilian's versatility would give Madrid more fluid movement in the attacking third, as he, Özil and Ronaldo can combine, interchange, and swap positions.
Neymar's scoring ability will be the key to his future at Madrid. With Ronaldo and the Brazilian starlet out on the wings, Los Blancos would have two goalscoring options to support the central striker.
Di María has developed into a world-class winger, but he has not shown the ability to consistently contribute goals. Neymar could provide that goalscoring touch opposite Ronaldo, leaving Özil or Kaká to create from a central position.
Although Mourinho has three top-quality finishers in Ronaldo, Higuaín and Benzema, the introduction of Neymar into the starting XI could ease the goalscoring burden on Madrid's main hitmen.
Impact Substitute and Rotation Player
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Neymar has the talent and potential to become one of the best players in the world, but the 19-year-old Brazilian is not ready to cement his place in Mourinho's starting XI.
The Portuguese tactician will most likely stay with the 4-2-3-1 formation, which will put Neymar in direct competition with Di María for the right wing position. If Mourinho were an attack-minded manager, Neymar would easily slot in and play opposite Ronaldo.
However, with his tactical philosophy and emphasis on defensive solidity, Mourinho will most likely use the Brazilian as an impact substitute and rotation player.
Di María's defensive work-rate and endless running down the right flank are invaluable to Los Blancos. The Argentine winger has been key to Madrid's high pressure in recent weeks, closing down opponents and covering for other attackers caught up the pitch.
He may not be a genuine goalscoring threat down the right, but Di María's tireless work for the team makes him the favorite to start opposite Ronaldo next season.
It will take time for Neymar to adjust to top-flight Spanish football and Mourinho's emphasis on defensive work-rate and concentration. The Brazilian will be used to keep Ronaldo fresh, and come off the bench as an impact sub.
Although Neymar has exceptional attacking qualities, the Brazilian must improve defensively before he earns a regular place in Mourinho's first-choice XI. Neymar will be a star for Madrid in the future, but it could take a year before he becomes a fixture in the starting lineup.
Long-Term Replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo
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Neymar will be part of a great generation of youth at Real Madrid, along with the likes of Benzema, Özil, Şahin, Di María, Marcelo, Varane and others. Although Los Blancos have been scouting Lille's Eden Hazard, it looks as though Neymar has emerged as Madrid's next "Galáctico."
It may not be his short-term role with the team, but the Brazilian will be the long-term replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese winger has refused to rule out a return to England, and a sensational move could be on the cards in a few years. With Mourinho looking to move back to the English Premier League at some point in the future, it would be no surprise if the two, both clients of football agent Jorge Mendes, were reunited in England.
Neymar may not be as athletically gifted as Ronaldo, but he has the skill and potential to become a dynamic goalscoring threat down the left wing as well.
Real Madrid are planning to spend £53 million for Neymar this summer, which represents a significant investment for the future. If Ronaldo leaves Madrid and returns to England, Los Blancos will be looking to Neymar as the natural replacement.