Wheeeee! aka “Neymar unleashed”

Injuries can be interesting in what they force upon a team. Messi’s being out for two months has not only forced Barça to adapt, but also given a potential glimpse of the future.

As Enrique made the tactical adaptations in reaction to the latest spate of injuries, the team changed a bit. If the two Barça styles can be likened to Norse gods, Messi’s Barça is ruled by the God of Thunder, while Neymar’s Barça is ruled by the God of Mischief.

When Messi went down with an injury, it’s a safe bet that a scientist would have declared the Camp Nou a vacuum after all of the air was sucked out of the place. After that, what people said was:

Neymar has to step up.

It started slowly enough, as he was dynamic and influential against Bayer Leverkusen, then had a strong match against Sevilla even as Barça lost. Yet it almost seemed like the team was trapped a bit between two worlds tactically, something that seemed clearer in the differences between Sevilla and the Rayo Vallecano matches, which were more than a style of play facilitated by a willing opponent. Luis Enrique began making changes that albeit temporary, are allowing the advent of Neymar Ball as an organism adapts to external stresses.

Is it really as simple as “Give it to No. 11?” Kinda, in the same way it was “Give it to No. 10” before, and will be again. You always want the most influential player on the pitch to be your point of reference in attack. Ego says that the system must be honored, that the stroking the ball around that happens when Barça is fully fit should continue when key players are absent. Naaaah. Give it to No. 11. Neymar was directly involved in every one of the five goals against Rayo, either scoring or assisting, even earning the penalties that he subsequently converted. Against BATE Borisov he was again dominant, directing play, tracking back, winning balls and provider of the two assists, both to Rakitic, for both Barça goals.

This success is more than the schedule being kind, even as the success is also due to something that will chagrin purists who think that Barça has a system, and should play that system at all times. Barça does have a system, and plays that system whenever possible. But even in the heyday of the system, there were moments when a talented individual said “Screw that, it’s Go Time.”

It isn’t abandoning a credo as much as Enrique recognizing, as did Rijkaard with Ronaldinho, that you shouldn’t harness crazy. When Neymar earned that second penalty against Rayo, he did it in a way that his detractors point to as a reason that he still isn’t suited to the Barça Way. He stopped the ball, made a couple of feints, nutmegged the defender and blew past him. It was the personification of modern-day Joga Bonito, an in-your-face manner in keeping with the modern sporting aesthetic.

Gone are the 237 perfect little passes to a logical terminus, as lovely triangle shapes force logical opponent movement which prises open locks which results in goals. But those days were long gone anyhow. Progress does that to systems as it forces them to adapt. This was one brilliant player, given carte blanche by his coach in the same way that same coach gives the same thing to the best player in the game, Messi.

“Go do what you do.”

Against both Rayo and BATE, teams that approached Barça in very different ways, the attack was the same open, space-making, run-and-gun style that depended on getting Neymar into spaces where he had the option to run, pass or shoot. Without Messi on the pitch, Neymar’s palette broadened as areas of the pitch that were heretofore off limits, became his playground. He prised a ball loose from a BATE attacker on the right, slipped passes to Suarez from the center and bamboozled defenders from the left. He did it by being a very different pain in the butt than Messi.

The other thing facilitating the arrival of Neymar Ball is injuries to key players. Iniesta went down, now Sergi Roberto is down. So rather than the metronomic precision of Barça tradition (even as the team looked very traditional at times against BATE), some freelancing was called for in the form of individual brilliance. No shame in that game, unless you consider it cheating to drive a Ferrari fast.

The Malaga and BATE matches both featured an inferior opponent playing physical, defensive football. Both resulted in scoreless first halves, and second halves that featured a difficult opponent finally being figured out. Both even featured big scoring chances being missed. But the football was quite different, systemic vs dynamic, with changes such as Munir assuming the Sanchez role of right-sided foil/workhorse as Busquets slid up the pitch, adding one-touch pragmatism to the mix.

Even the opening goals against both teams were interesting, as Malaga came from a system-based shot from Suarez, with a rebound that fell to Vermaelen. The BATE opener came via a jerky, jinking Neymar run that drew the defense, leaving Rakitic in acres to space to slot home. The second against BATE came in the same way, flowing, freelance football that ended with a sublime pass and quality finish, almost sandlot football.

Though it’s easy to dismiss that Barça approach as “everybody just running,” that was the point. In the second half, Barça played faster, pressed higher and harder with the intention of speeding up the game, of creating more movement than BATE could deal with, drawing them forward to hit them in the back. In theory, the ball moves faster than any man, but if you’re playing the ball around an opponent in two banks of four with two pressing high, the ball would need to move like a rocket. Just as a dynamic Messi run cracked open Atleti in last season’s 3-1 home win, a dynamic Neymar run opened up Rayo repeatedly, then BATE.

The complexity of this approach is that Suarez is a casualty, as he is forced to play differently. With Messi, Neymar and Suarez, the Uruguayan has a bit more time on and off the ball before defenders close down on him. He doesn’t have the same sort of moves and control that will allow him to create his own space, so defenders sit on him. In effect, Suarez becomes like Pedro, a player forced to do something that he really isn’t good at in an attempt to do his job. There are many remarks on Suarez’s first touch, as he attempts to dribble past a defender or two. That’s the consequence.

Another consequence is the misunderstood right wing. People said that Munir had a bad match just as they used to say that Sanchez had a bad match, and for the same reasons. In the role that Sanchez used to play and the role that Munir played against BATE, the job is to provide tactical width and influence the match in all ways. Calling it “donkey work” would be selling it short, particularly as Munir’s defending had a key role in one of the goals. But it’s something that is often difficult to understand, because the job of an attacker is to attack, and if they aren’t creating chances or scoring goals, how is that a good match? Yet Munir had a great day.

Whether this “get it to No. 11” is a tactical failure or a smart adaptation will depend on how a given evaluator thinks about the football that Barça plays. But there is no denying that it works, because crazy thrives in chaos. It isn’t that Sanchez wasn’t the player that he is at Arsenal when he was at Barça, but rather that the system didn’t allow him to be that player. Some will find it a delight that Enrique chose to sow chaos in an effort to give a player who thrives on it his best chances to excel. Others will find it an appalling betrayal. Both sides are right.

Meanwhile, the hope is that aspects of this new way of thinking will persevere when Messi returns from his injury hiatus. With Messi and Iniesta in the lineup, there isn’t a need for the kind of constant tactical “chaos” that we saw against Rayo and BATE. But it comes in handy sometimes, and the beauty of having talented players is that every now and again, you can turn them loose to do what they do.

No player is as good as Messi is with the ball at his feet, and Neymar isn’t as good as Messi — he might never be. This isn’t to say that Messi wouldn’t be able to thrive from the chaos that Neymar sows, just as Rakitic and Suarez can. We are getting a glimpse of a possible future as Neymar assumes a more significant leadership role on the team, part of a maturation process that goes farther than a sensible haircut. He is being less theatrical, taking more fouls and just getting up, playing with more calm. That is the Messi influence, but also the Barça influence.

Neymar didn’t just come to Barça because he would be able to walk into this XI. That would have been true at any club in the world. He came to Barça to grow and improve as a player, and what better way to do that than to play with the best player in the game? This Barça, being run by the God of Mischief, is showing some of the results of that high-level finishing school.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

27 Comments

  1. mr.undercover
    October 23, 2015

    Great writings by Kevin! Hitting all the right notes as usual. Neymar is the future of this club as he evinced it every now and then,
    This is my dream XI gala for the next coming 5 years,
    1. MATs
    2. Vidal/sergi roberto (provided he reached to the mark)
    3. Alba /grimaldo
    4. Besquet / samper (needs to improve defensively and muscle up a bit)
    5.pique/ bartra(if he shows some significant improvements)
    6. Laporte( if the club can purchase him )
    7.adama / deulofeu / halilovic( I hav a blind confidence in him)
    8. Samper/ verrati( I wish the club can bring him instead of 90 m pogba)
    9. Suarez?? At that time he may get old munir? Neymar in a false 9 role?
    10. G.o.a.t ( his game will eventually shift to the midfield and have our greatest no. 10 in the 10 position)/ rafinha would be an assess in this role too
    11. Neymar/ deulofeu/ Denis suarez
    Would enrique be our coach in that time?? I doubt much!
    Anyway that’s my fantasy team

  2. georgjorge
    October 23, 2015

    It will be very interesting to see what happens once Messi is back, in terms of team hierarchy as well as tactics. Maybe Neymar will want more time on the ball and have more responsibility on the pitch than before, and maybe that’s where he’ll clash with Messi. And maybe Messi will drop even deeper into midfield and share creative duties with Neymar – who stays upfront – that way. Lots of potential for good and bad things.

    By the way, does anyone know how long Sergi Roberto will be out?

  3. ooga aga
    October 23, 2015

    Despite neymars confidence in himself, which should be apparent to anyone, i think he is just warming up to his new role, and it might even need more time. I think it will actually be easier for him to return to his supporting role when messi returns. Such is his respect for Messi. That is, i think he would rather play with messi, even if it means a reduced role and less “wheeee!”, than without him.

    Sergi roberto will be out 7-10 days, they said. Minor groin strain. Funny how no one would have cared about SR being injured a year ago.

    Also it has not been announced but iniesta is now training with the team and looks quite mobile. Yay!

  4. luisthebeast
    October 23, 2015

    So if there is not a deal with Qatar maybe Bartomeu come out and say:Dear cules there is no company to pay us 70m for our shirt.We will not sold for less money our shirt.From now on our shirt will be free again!!!!I would love to see then the reactions!!People will say with joy,yes finally we are free!!Or they will say:Stupid Board now no big transfers??

  5. luisthebeast
    October 23, 2015

    And even better if he say:Dear cules we will rebuild Camp Nou but with no sponsor in the name!For the next decade the team will depend only in La Masia and we will spend the transfers money for the stadium and the debt!That would be fun times!!

  6. Barcathegreatestever
    October 24, 2015

    Is Seung Ho Pak the answer for Barca’s mid? I read bits of him tearing it up in Korea. 6 years in Barca and didn’t jump ship with the others with the FIFA ban. I’ve been getting a little ancy to see the future for Barca’s famous midfield,; seems like we might finally have a true blue Barca raised attacking mid

    • G6O
      October 24, 2015

      Also, Lee Seung Woo is turning 18 in January.

      So he will finally get to play, whether it’s for Juvenil A or Barca B. It will be interesting to see what happens

      If he’s indeed the answer for the future, he should make quick progress through the ranks.

  7. ciaran
    October 24, 2015

    It’s not really wheeee football though, it’s give it to Neymar and hope. We have had two goal scorers it the league outside of our front three, those two are a single goal each from Vermaelen and Bartra, neither of whom look like part of our likely gala XI come the important matches.
    Looking at Madrid, they have far more players on the scoresheet so far this season. Bayern have 9 different scorers already this season and Man City have an incredible 11.

    We need a lot more input from our midfielders and more importantly Munir and Sandro.

  8. horlahlehk
    October 25, 2015

    Barca-B are steadily climbin de table
    Anoda point tu bag…(All 3 actually dz tym) wif a clean sheet

    • ooga aga
      October 25, 2015

      What?

  9. luisthebeast
    October 25, 2015

    Our squad is 9 defenders 4 forwards and 3(three)midfielders. And Samper is with b team.Well i trust Lucho but i cant stand Douglas in the squad and not Samper.Sometimes u need to risk but he wants to play it safe.Whatever.

  10. TITO
    October 25, 2015

    This isnt anymore about trying to hold on until january. We are playing so poor it’s ridiculous. This is more than just dip in form, we are far far away from being a football side from the finish of last season.
    Cant understand it, and yes, we’ve been relatively poor with Messi and Iniesta as well.

  11. Cyclops
    October 25, 2015

    So RM beats Celta 3-1, while we lost 4-1, yeah i know, football’s not mathematics, but…..JEEZ!!!

    As for this game, still wondering if i wasted my time watching it or not.
    And basically for what Eibar did today, i wished them relegation this season,, Like what the hell was those fouls about? and the dweeb that call himself a referee, practically spurred them on in their evil machinations, and then at the slightest hint of provocation from Masche, he remembered he had a Red card.
    Team its self was way better in the firsthalf, in the second, they just lost it. Is it me, or really has the passing accuracy of this team gone down? The very few chances Eibar had on the ball, often than not their passes were finding their man, and honestly that really irked a lot.

    Meanwhile, can someone send a memo to Bravo that its perfectly safe and sane to come the hell out of his line sometimes?!? For crying out loud, i think we’ve celebrated him along with his fault so much that he’s become really comfortable. For goodness sake he’s play hampers our game. I mean, look at the Eibar GK, i got real green with envy, each time he came out and smother balls playing the sweeper keeper. Join with the fact that, that helped to curtail the chances created by the team. I thought once you join barca you supposed to adapt your play? Bravo has gotten too complacent that he’s not willing to improve at all, and that annoying. You neednt be born a sweeper keeper to (mistakenly) wander out of your line sometimes, arrrghhhh..

    And can someone please enlighten me, is conceding gargantuan yards of space to the opponent part of Alves’s Job??

    And for Neymar, sometimes simplicity is genius, its pays to keep it simple,, often times the game need it. Be matured enough to discern when…

    • ooga aga
      October 26, 2015

      Vigo were the better side and also had a man sent off.

    • ooga aga
      October 26, 2015

      Huh. Yeah it wasnt the best performance but there was actually a lot to like. We were down in their end much more, had 70% of the ball (which doesn’t happen by passing poorly) and bravo had fairly little to do. Neymar had two great assists and created a lot of danger. Sometimes he makes the wrong decision but hey hes a kid and anyways i guess it’s a matter of what you want to highlight. In the bigger context our team and players are doing great given the circumstances.

  12. Cyclops
    October 25, 2015

    Ona light note, so Johan Cruyff, has gotten injured too, aparently the recent injurie flu is no respecter of players or retired players

    Heard the president of the Spanish football fed is being investigated for corruption charges,,, Next up, Fiorentino Perez,, this is the point were we toast to lovely Karma…

  13. Jim
    October 25, 2015

    I’m gonna assume that the above regarding Cruyff is a second language thing, Cyclops, it’s not in the best taste given the seriousness of the news. Don’t think it comes across as you intended it.

  14. Cyclops
    October 25, 2015

    Oops, my bad.
    What with the players acknowledging their support for him, i just sort of drew this weird remote analogy that seems eerily funny, between doing that and the injuries that has blighted Players of the club
    No harm intended though, just trolling that thing called Injury

    • Jim
      October 25, 2015

      No problem. I figured that.

  15. luisthebeast
    October 25, 2015

    Well just October 26th and so many problems.Messi trial,Neymar case,Financial uncertainity,Estelada case,Samper case,Sponsor case…u cant be boring with our club…Lucho must find the balance in this strange situation..

  16. barca96
    October 26, 2015

    I expected the fans to cheer on the 14th Neymar for Cruyff. Disappointed it didn’t come. Waited till the 15th minute and figured it’s not going to happen. C’mon Camp Nou fans!!

  17. deerwithwings
    October 26, 2015

    the suarez critics are eerily quiet. Sorry for the dig, but that is exactly why luis can have a few games were he isn’t perfect. His goals yesterday were masterclass. Neymar and suarez seem to be bonding really well in messi’s absence.

    Again, too many silly mistakes at the back. That can be fixed. Our midfield has boat load of problems, but i’m not sure what le can do to fix that with the current available personal.

    Masch may have been overly harsly penalized but he really should have kept his cool.

  18. Jim
    October 26, 2015

    Just rewatched the game and the first thing that leaps out at me is the effort put in by the players. We are lucky that these players are giving us everything every week. We’re still right in the race and Messi and Iniesta get better with every day.

    The downside of that is that they’re having to put in this effort because we are no longer able to dominate opponents. Forget the percentages – most of our possession was slow square and back which was why the fans, a little unfairly, imo, began to jeer.

    We won again because two of our great front three were bang on form. There surely can’t be anyone left doubting Neymar’s ability. Without him we probably lose the last two league games. Same with Suarez. He’d be worth it for his work rate and movement alone even if he wasn’t banging in loads of goals. And they’re not the result of vertical football either. Eibar had more than half their team goal side for each of our goals. Just forward quality.

    The rest of the team is more concerning but biggest problem still is the midfield by a long way. Hopefully, folk that doubted Matthieu have seen what he is capable of. He hasn’t played badly for us at CB. LB ? All bets are off. He’s not suited to it – at least not the way we play. I’ll say again – he and Pique are our best partnership at the moment ( although I thought subbing Bartra was a little heartless) . And hopefully it’s the one which will get the nod for the Clasico because we will need pace and. positional sense beside Pique to deal with Ronaldo and Bale. I read on Total Barca a thought I think I’ve seen elsewhere that Matthieu has trouble concentrating for more than a half. Nonsense. It might look that way at LB because our passing lanes are very tight for a left footed player but for me he’s the real deal at CB.

    I’m not gonna have a go at Bartra because he has played well in the chances he has been given but I still reckon he’ll come up slightly short in the last analysis. He could have done better but there was more to the goal than that. It started with Rakitic. After eight minutes, rather than play the safe ball back down the sideline to Pique he opts to hit a slow curling pass to Bartra. I’ve said before how I hate the slow balls played to our CBs with their suicidally high line. You have to take into account the time it is in the air. By the time it arrives, Bartra doesn’t have much time to do much with it. Now, he should still have first timed it to Pique rather than turning inside to trouble but this could all have been avoided.

    After that, yes, I suppose Masche should have had a better position but he was unlucky he turned over the wrong shoulder at the wrong time. That brings me to those folks determined to find a Bravo mistake as if that’ll somehow justify dropping him for TS. Quite simple really. If a ball is hit to the side of you you should be able to parry it to the side and out of danger. If it is hit near you from three or four yards away and you are cramped you take whatever angle comes but usually it’ll go straight back. He had no blame whatsoever for this goal and is still for me our number one.

    I’m fed up talking about the midfield so we’ll leave it there but there is one massive underachiever there who needs to shape up or be put back on the bench. Call it fatigue if you like . Masche didn’t have a great game either but can’t fault his effort. There was trouble coming, though. He was Mr Angry most of the night for some reason and you could see from his face as he passed the ref he had passed comment of some sort of the linesman he’d just had a go at a minute before for some small incident. Unlike most here, Im not too upset by the prospect of him missing the Clasico though as long as our other injuries go away. Mind you, unless it was something earth shatteringly abusive a yellow and a word in the ear was all that was needed. Still trying to work out why Pique was given a yellow when I didn’t even see a foul.

    Busi I thought had one of his better games in a more advanced role. But he is so good in his normal position we’re skewing things to play him there. Cue elephant in room . . .

    Worried seeing Pique again holding his hip in pain. He needs rest or he’ll be out for a spell I reckon. Same with Neymar. He dribbles like Iniesta, showing the ball to the opponent then using quick feet to beat him. Like Iniesta that’ll bring injuries. I like seeing him as a more central playmaker but he needs to reign in the constant dribbles for me, for his own sake.

    Final thought. How many of us, like me, we’re out of our chairs at the supreme Barca like passing at one point in the second half ( about 61:30.) when it was still a tight game ? Yes, for me that IS the Barca way ( and with Rakitic playing the part of Xavi !!! ) It’s called control of the ball . It knackers the opponents so they’re less keen to press or swarm upfield, costs us little effort and uses our major skills to our advantage rather than an end to end slugfest. You could see the heart getting run out of them. More of this please .

    • barca96
      October 27, 2015

      Great post. Hopefully Pique will get rested for 2 matches now that Vermaelen is back. We’re covered at CB with Matthieu, Masch, Bartra and Vermaelen. So I don’t see any need to risk Pique even further. We already lost the best forward and midfielder. We won’t survive without another one as crucial as our best CB.

      It is strange how out of sorts Masch looks in midfield. And so far even in CB he hasn’t looked as commanding as before.

      I’m glad 2 talented midfielders are called up for training (Monday). We need some ball playing midfielders atm. Hopefully they’ll impress in training and Lucho will select them ahead of curious case that is Gumbau.

      Lucho does Give chances to the youngsters but he tends to give it to the wrong ones. Gumbau, Camara, Munir and Sandro weren’t even one of the best players of the B team.

  19. luisthebeast
    October 26, 2015

    It was not a great perfomance and Eibar is not a beast,but they had only one loss until now and 7 goals conceded in 8 games.And they played really hard and passionate because i believe they wanted revenge for our draw against La Coruna last season.Now we have a match against Getafe and i hope we will be much better!Btw Luis have 35 goals and 25 assists in 57 games!Not bad!

  20. Cyclops
    October 27, 2015

    Well, IMO Neymar has been our best player in recent weeks, simply pointing out obvious flaws in his game in a matchday for God sake dosnt mean i think he’s crap.
    So i suppose its also depends on Perspective, you’d do well to get one. If you dont feel like making any objective analysis of a player or the team, fine, thats your preference,,, Not mine

    That also goes for the Suarez critics being supposedly eeirly quiet. Its amazing when folks here, seem not to have any idea about objective analysis.
    I’m not a critic of Suarez, thats outlandish,, i have problems with his recent poor plays expecially when its persist over time, just like i’d have with any other player including Leo Messi. He gets a hat-trick, great, he’s in my team of the week,, his finally finding top form sets us up nicely for the elclasico. Because i didnt come on here and go and on about that, dosnt mean i’m hating or whatever…
    If thats the way yo see things, you probably have a running vendetta against Sports analyst, because then they’re automatically against your team when they try to points out OBVIOUS flaws in the team and hence your enemies.

    Suggesting that barca had 70 percent possesion and so all is well, i’m like really? We could use a little more Objectivity once or twice you know.

    For starters, do you know the pass accuracy barca average each game under LE? Its a pointless banter to go down this lane, cause i think its a fairly establish fact that barca are not as majestic in possesion as they once was. In fact, to bust your bubble THERE ARE IN DECLINE relative to recent years. Many theories has been put forward for that; lack of players with such skills set. Vertcality. Opponents who’ve adapted. Whetever the case, point is, 70 percent ball possesion against Eibat means almost nothing. Chelsea do get that much against EPL minnow for the record

  21. rileypowell
    May 13, 2016

    ÎïÒµ6Ôª£¬30ÎïÒµ6Ôª£¬300ƽ·½£¬2Ôª.µç»°18616850982

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