THE BLOG

Player Focus: Neymar Discovering His Goalscoring Touch in Spain

16/11/2014 20:09 GMT | Updated 16/01/2015 10:59 GMT

2014-11-14-NeymarHeader.jpg

On Wednesday night, Neymar bagged a brace in Brazil's 4-0 win over Turkey. A friendly in Istanbul may not have set the world alight, but it was a game that saw the Brazil star continue his impressive pursuit of the nation's all-time scoring record. Neymar's second of the game brought his international total to 42 from 59 international appearances, moving clear of Bebeto's return for the Seleção. At just 22, the Barcelona star has Pele's record of 77 goals firmly in his sights and you would not bet against the attacker breaking that.

His double against Turkey marked what has been quite the impressive start to the season. Only Cristiano Ronaldo (18) has netted more Liga goals than Neymar (10) this term. What is perhaps all the more notable is that, after 10 games, Neymar has already bettered his goal return from last season (9) from 26 Liga appearances.

After a debut campaign in Spain that left many wondering whether he would fulfill his potential at Camp Nou, the striker has silenced his doubters. In the wake of Alexis Sánchez's departure for Arsenal and Cesc Fàbregas' move to Chelsea, Barcelona needed the former Santos trainee to live up to expectations and Neymar certainly has not disappointed.

Four goals for Brazil at the 2014 World Cup convinced the world that Neymar can carry the goalscoring burden for his country and it's evident that his absence in the eventual 7-1 defeat to Germany affected his teammates. The pressure that comes with shouldering such a responsibility is enough to see any player crumble, but Neymar did so effortlessly for his country over the summer before his tournament was cruelly cut short as a result of a back injury. However, Neymar is clearly now becoming more prolific at domestic level, as well as in internationals.

Luis Enrique has kept the same 4-3-3 formation that Barcelona are famous for after taking over the reins from Gerardo Martino this summer. It's a formation that youngsters are taught when they arrive at the famous La Masia academy and having managed Barcelona B between 2008 and 2011, it's little shock to see Enrique keep with the system. This benefits the attackers at the Barcelona coach's disposal, but Neymar in particular is profiting.

Starting from the left and cutting inside, the Brazilian is able to capitalise on the space Lionel Messi in particular creates when Barcelona attack. A prime example of this came in Barcelona's 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid last month. While Marcelo was lazy in returning to the defence, Messi's darting run across the 18-yard box drew Luka Modric away from the ball and opened up the chance for Neymar to go for goal, where he took the opportunity excellently.

2014-11-14-neymar.jpg

Neymar may be averaging considerably fewer dribbles per game this season (1.8) than last (3), and while this may be as a result of Messi pulling markers away from their starting position, Neymar is also being deployed more as a left forward rather than a left winger, as his heatmap above shows. Therefore, there are fewer players for the Brazil star to beat when he bears down on goal.

With more space afforded to him, the Brazil international is presented with more goalscoring chances. As a result, Neymar is averaging more shots per league match this season (3.3) than last (2.6). The rise in confidence following his impressive World Cup would have contributed to a higher shot count, but his increased responsibility in attack means he is now considered one of Barcelona's primary goalscorers, rather than a creator.

This is highlighted, not only in his number of assists in Spain's top tier (Neymar has one this season, down from eight), but also his average number of key passes per game (0.7, down from 1.6). It remains to be seen whether or not Enrique has instructed Neymar to be more selfish in front of goal, but if he has, the tack is evidently paying off. Having scored freely during his time at Santos, Neymar's goal-getting ability was never really called into doubt, but rather whether he could adjust to the rigours of La Liga.

2014-11-14-NeymarCha.jpg

After what some may claim was an underwhelming first season at Camp Nou, the Brazilian has discovered his goalscoring touch in Spain. Where Martino's style perhaps became a little predictable, restricting his influence, Enrique's approach has seen the player flourish this campaign. Big things were expected of Neymar upon the culmination of the World Cup, and subsequent return to fitness, and he has not failed to disappoint.

Messi will be the main man at Camp Nou for the foreseeable future, of that there is no doubt, but Neymar's form this term has eased the pressure and dependency on the Argentine. Neymar is now more involved in the Barcelona attack and his early season league form has aided the Blaugrana in the pursuit of their 23rd Liga title.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com