Possessed by Neymar

Possessed by Neymar
PHOTO: Reuters

What defines a great player? It's one who provides leadership and impetus and raises his own game to make up for any shortcomings in the team.

That's exactly what Neymar is doing now for Barcelona.

He has taken the lead role since Lionel Messi was sidelined by a knee ligament injury three weeks ago.

On Sunday morning (Singapore time), he hit four goals in the Catalan side's demolition of Rayo Vallecano in La Liga and then yesterday morning (Singapore time), he provided both assists for Ivan Rakitic's double in the 2-0 victory over BATE Borisov in the Champions League.

"I think it is the case that Neymar has taken up a role where he participates more in the build up of play with Messi not there," said Barca defender Marc Bartra.

"He is playing well and with the quality that we have in attack it is important that players like he and (Luis) Suarez keep scoring for us," he added.

In contrast to Uruguayan Suarez, who has had a quiet start to the season by his own high standards, Neymar is showing that he has a lot more to his game than just goals and fancy footwork.

He is able to pick the ball up in deeper areas of the pitch and provide the vision which Barca need with both Messi and Andres Iniesta in the treatment room.

Still Barca are not showing the same lethal finishing as last season when their three forwards hit 122 goals between them on the way to winning the Treble.

They now have a comfortable three-point lead in Group E and are joint top of La Liga but the first half against BATE was another example where they struggled to finish off the chances they made.

"Neymar is a great player, but Leo is incomparable and there is no way you can replace him," Javier Mascherano said.

"Neymar and Suarez are among the best players in the world, they needed to step up and fill the gap which is what is happening but it is also the responsibility of the rest of the team.

"We are not at top level in front of goal and we are aware of that. The team can do more but with more work we will get there."

Barca coach Luis Enrique was pleased with the performance against BATE.

"I am happy in general as it is never easy to play this solidly away from home in the Champions League," he said.

"We have been on a run where it has been difficult for us to score and we have suffered at the back with the little that we have been threatened.

"I think that this can be a turning point.''

Barca drew their first game in the group against Roma and then needed two late goals to give them a fortunate 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in their last Champions League match.

In La Liga, too, they have not been rolling over sides in the same manner as last season and have lost their last two away games.

This article was first published on October 22, 2015.
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