Since 2013, the fifth member of Barcelona’s “dream team” has not been able to deliver a single trophy in any competition, with the last Champions League trophy Barcelona won their penalty shootout success over AC Milan in the final of the 2011-12 season.
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Since then, Neymar has had no shortage of options at the Nou Camp. The Brazilian has received his fair share of criticism, but in Barcelona’s pecking order of attacking options, what on paper appears an eminently sensible pursuit is quickly turning into an uneasy situation. In recent weeks, he has received criticism for his lack of contribution on the field in both games against Sporting CP and Lyon.
Neymar has scored twice in eight La Liga appearances and mustered just six La Liga goals this season. More worryingly, on a personal level, Neymar has endured a dreadful first season in La Liga – his statistics almost mirror his entire domestic career in Brazil and which has been disrupted by injuries in recent seasons. As of Friday, he had amassed just 658 minutes of action, with many realising that his form is beginning to dip. His latest setback came in the Camp Nou’s defeat to Lyon on Wednesday, when he set up David Viera for the first and failed to score himself, despite being put in a dangerous position.
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique blamed “the game’s directness and lack of space” for the loss. Although Barcelona are not traditionally quick in transition, they don’t always concede to opponents’ more elegant moves. Neymar is still adapting to life in Spain, leading to Barcelona losing ground to Real Madrid who sit one point behind in the Champions League.
Nonetheless, the situation in Barcelona is not as dire as it may seem. On Monday, Neymar will miss Real’s Champions League match at Real Sociedad through suspension and they may be able to exploit Barcelona’s current depth in attacking options, as well as looking to an arguably weakened Spurs side in Saturday’s heavyweight El Clásico showdown. Without Neymar, Barcelona would likely be chasing the game at halftime, whereas instead they will have at least 30 minutes to find him in the match. Should Messi and Özil dominate the midfield and Aguero play as a front man, Messi, Odriozola and Gomes will be available, a good position for Barça.
Overall, Barcelona’s future is not too bleak. Luis Enrique has confirmed that he will continue as manager until June 2021, but news of Zinedine Zidane’s impending departure and the impending departure of his assistant, Mateo Kovacic, has led many Barça supporters to bemoan the possibility of Zidane/Enrique coaching the team simultaneously.
This would theoretically have led the club to take another run at the French national team’s new manager, Lucas Moura, who was named interim head coach of Roma last year. Like Zidane, Moura played over 50 times for France, though he was never a key member of the squad. Although Moura has a somewhat limited playing history, he would certainly be able to ease the burden that the place is currently looking for.
While it’s tempting to suggest that Neymar is even just one of many options waiting in the wings at the Camp Nou, considering how quickly things may change should a rival arrive at the club, it is a risk worth taking. On Saturday, Barcelona have a chance to reverse their poor start to the season and maybe ease some of the pressure that they feel. Neymar has proven that he can succeed in Europe but it might be time to admit that he may never achieve it at Barcelona.