After his dream of delivering a World Cup to Brazil was shattered in heart-breaking fashion in July, Neymar returns to Spain for his second season in Europe hoping to continue to develop his game and bring success to the club.
While his back injury will undoubtedly interrupt his pre-season preparations, there has been a significant wave of change with the Catalan outfit this summer, starting with the appointment of Luis Enrique, which was swiftly followed by an impressive transfer market.
The addition of Luis Suarez has unsurprisingly made the rest of Europe stand up and take further notice. While the trio look a daunting prospect on paper, it remains to be seen whether or not such talented individuals can co-exist and ultimately bring out the best in each other.
Much will depend on Enrique’s ability to find the tactical balance and assign the appropriate roles. It is assumed that Neymar, Suarez and Lionel Messi will be given the freedom to roam and interchange in order to prevent the opposition from gaining a point of reference in their marking and defensive shape.
Nevertheless, it is still questionable as to whether Neymar in particular will shine in such a situation. While there are no doubts over his professionalism and passion for the game, making the transition from being the idol of millions this summer to merely being one piece of the bigger picture for his club could be difficult for the 22-year-old.
The strength of the opposition will also be a determining factor in whether or not Enrique opts for more defensive solidity, but ultimately he will need to exert some sense of control over how he deploys his trident.
He may perhaps deem it appropriate to have more bodies in midfield to maintain their aggressive pressing and passing.
In that case, the endeavour of Ivan Rakitic could be complimented by Javier Mascherano, as Enrique hinted at using the Argentinian in his natural defensive midfield role, and that could potentially indicate a change in formation. Neymar may be the favourite to be sacrificed.
Meanwhile, Suarez’s ban causes further problems in that it prevents the trio from building an understanding prior to his return in October. However, if Neymar is predominantly used as a left-winger moving inside when required, then he could well make his case as being integral to the system before the Uruguayan even takes to the pitch.
Enrique will be looking to make his Barcelona side more unpredictable after teams began to neutralise their traditional tiki-taka approach. Playing Neymar in his preferred and most threatening position is important for the Brazilian’s continued development and confidence.
New Brazil Coach Dunga laid down the gauntlet this week by insisting that Neymar will have to earn his place in his team moving forward. But the first challenge he faces is proving to Enrique that he is more than capable of continuing to play a consistent role in a star-studded team that isn’t centred on him.
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