“Back together” read the message posted by Neymar on his Instagram account after confirmation of Lionel Messi’s sensational switch to Paris Saint-Germain this summer. Of course, the pair had formed two thirds of European football’s most devastating frontline during their time together at Barcelona and so there was excitement over their reunion in the French capital.
However, Messi’s first few months as a PSG player haven’t been as exhilarating as many envisaged it would be. In fact, the 2021/22 season to date has been a bit of a slog for the French giants with Mauricio Pochettino struggling to find a system and approach that harnesses the attacking talent at the club.
Pochettino might have stumbled across a solution to his, and this team’s, problems, though. PSG played with greater balance in Tuesday’s 3-1 Champions League win over Club Brugge with Messi particularly eye-catching. There was, however, no sign of Neymar alongside the Argentine.
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Neymar is expected to miss the next eight weeks of action due to an ankle injury and while ordinarily any team would be worse off for the absence of a player of the Brazilian’s quality, this might not be the case for PSG. Indeed, there’s good reason to believe Pochettino’s side are better without Neymar.
The statistics certainly back up this view. With Neymar in the team, PSG’s win percentage stands at 64%. Without him, it’s 86%. PSG have claimed an average of 2.1 points per match when Neymar has played for them and scored 1.8 goals per match featuring the 29-year-old. Following a consistent trend, those averages rise to 2.6 points per match and 2.7 goals per match without him.
Of course, Neymar is individually one of the most productive attackers in the sport right now. He has 90 goals and 55 assists in just 130 games for PSG having been signed to be the face of the club’s efforts to dominate European football. There aren’t many who can produce a moment of magic out of nothing like Neymar can.
And yet Neymar could find himself squeezed out at the Parc des Princes. Messi’s arrival in the summer means PSG now have three luxury attackers, making their team top-heavy. With Mbappe, Messi and Neymar as the frontline, PSG frequently find themselves left light in the middle of the pitch. Pochettino’s high-pressing style certainly doesn’t work with the trio in the side.
If one of the three has to be cut from the team, Neymar is the best candidate. Messi is arguably the greatest player of all-time while Mbappe looks to be a future Ballon d’Or winner in-waiting. Messi can operate as PSG’s attacking hub, dropping deep to pick up the ball and drive it forward, while Mbappe can give them an outlet in behind with his speed.
Neymar for Paris Saint-Germain.
Image credit: Getty Images
The choice to field Mbappe and Messi as a pair without Neymar allows Pochettino to balance his team with a hard-working attacker, like Angel di Maria. This is how PSG shaped up for the Champions League win over Club Brugge and it gave them more of a footing to control possession and close down their opponents high up the pitch.
Much has been said and written about Neymar’s character and dressing room influence since he signed for PSG four years ago with many questioning his commitment to the cause. However, the growing issue with Neymar relates to his football, not his character. Moments of individual brilliance might not be enough to justify his place in the team.
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