The period of games in which Barcelona were without their star man Lionel Messi was supposed to be a difficult one, where crucial points were dropped and ground was lost in the title race. When the masterful Messi was injured back in September against Las Palmas, the Camp Nou faithful despaired, and understandably so. After all, any team without their best player, never mind arguably the best player in world football, is bound to struggle. But then again, Barca aren’t just any team.
They’re a team who possess an absurd amount of talent. Luis Suarez and Neymar have done more than step up in Messi’s absence. They’ve taken games by the scruff of the neck and proved themselves as players for the big occasion, as if we needed a reminder. Take Suarez’s sublime, instinctive winner against Bayer Leverkusen, or the way in which Neymar took advantage of a fatigued Villarreal team to propel Barca to the top of the table.
The Clasico takes place on Saturday evening, the game that has always been pinpointed as Messi’s comeback. There have been doubts from some sources and reassurances from others, however, about whether or not the diminutive Argentine will be fit for the game, and it appears as though a place on the substitutes’ bench is likely.
The fact that Barca come into this game three points ahead of their arch-rivals Real Madrid is an some achievement for La Blaugrana. They owe a lot to Suarez and Neymar, who have scored Barca’s last 17 League goals between them, but kudos must go to Luis Enrique, who has found the right formula in order to deal without Messi. Suarez has kept roughly the same role albeit with more space for him to do his thing in the box, but Neymar has been granted the freedom to perform his wizardry all over the final third of the pitch.
It must be noted, however, that Madrid have been without James Rodriguez, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and now Keylor Navas for differing lengths of time, and these are all players who have a profound effect on Los Blancos’ performances. They have, though, still had their main man in Cristiano Ronaldo, which goes to show that the two sides who contest the Clasico are by no means one-man teams.
As Messi returns, then, a pertinent question which must be considered is, what now for Neymar? He will be shifted back out to the left-hand side, which will provide further evidence as to where his best position is and whether or not Enrique will now begin to grant him more freedom. It will also highlight whether or not Messi hinders the effect of the Brazilian. Ultimately, Neymar is not the principal player of the team, and if he wants to elevate himself to the dizzy heights of the World No 1, can he do it in this team, while playing with Messi?
Neymar Sr. mentioned a move elsewhere in discussion about his son’s tax problems in an interview with Cadena SER, according to Marca.
“Neymar’s brand has been a business since 2006 and we want to be reassured that everything is correct,” he said. “It’s unfair that we can later be caught by surprise and told it’s not correct. This lack of understanding makes us very insecure and uneasy. We have to do the right things and I’d like to know if Spain will let us work or we have to leave. I don’t want to use the word ‘persecution’ but if we don’t have a comfortable situation to work we can’t stay in Spain. If we are creating big problems for Spain, we can’t be here. We’ve never had such big tax problems.”
These tax issues are undoubtedly a legitimate excuse for leaving Spain, and if we witness Neymar being restricted in Messi’s comeback then expect a saga concerning his departure to be instigated, especially as a contract renewal is on the agenda for the 23-year-old.
The spell in which Messi has been absent for Barca could come to define their season. They have come out of the other side unscathed, and if the form of Suarez and Neymar continues alongside Messi’s then the goals could come flowing in even more ridiculous amounts. First, though, they have a Clasico to contend, a game in which form virtually goes out of the window. If Barca can get through to the latter stages of the match still in the game, then what better player to bring off the bench than Lionel Messi…