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Where Does Neymar Rank Among Messi’s Greatest Attacking Team-Mates at Barcelona?

Posted: August 7, 2017 at 3:30 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

The end of an era has come to Barcelona, with the unstoppable MSN attacking trident broken up. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez remain, but the third component has departed, with Neymar moving to Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record transfer.

For £200 million, it’s to be expected that PSG are getting an incredible player of near-limitless potential. But Neymar hasn’t yet been crowned the best player, with former team-mate Messi more often grabbing the headlines and being hailed as the world’s finest—whenever rival Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t, that is.

But where does Neymar rank among the best of the rest? Where does he feature among all the greats Messi has played with, those who have set him up countless times—and he them—since he broke into the Barcelona team in 2004/05?

More than 25 of Messi’s attacking team-mates have been considered, and below are the top 15, with the likes of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Cristian Tello among those missing out. Any player who has been a regular in the Barca front three during the Argentinian’s time at the club was considered. The forwards are judged solely on their time at the Camp Nou.

15. Paco Alcacer

One of the current crop of attackers, Paco Alcacer struggled in the first half of last campaign after switching from Valencia but has grown more into his role as fourth-choice forward as time has gone on.

He’s not an elite striker and was never the right signing for the side one year ago, but Alcacer did improve in consistency and more than once came up with important interventions, including in the Copa del Rey final.

Will he get more of an opportunity now Neymar has departed? It’s possible but not probable.

14. Bojan Krkic

Bojan Krkic’s career quickly spiralled downward when he swapped Barca for AS Roma in 2011, and he has since gone on to play for the likes of Ajax, Stoke City and Mainz 05, with only his spell with the English side being any kind of a success for him.

In his first three seasons as a young forward at the Camp Nou, though, he was a prodigy, a confident and fast goalscorer whether he played from the left or in the middle, scoring over 30 goals for the first team by age 20.

That was as good as it got, but his early promise is still seen in flashes.

13. Arda Turan

Turkish attacker Arda Turan gets a rough time, but he’s a victim of being versatile and a rung short of elite standard, which playing for Barcelona so often requires.

He covered for Neymar extremely well at the start of 2016/17, playing from the left and scoring with frequency, but he hasn’t managed the same sort of consistency for anywhere near long enough to make a role his own.

He’s a fine squad player who can offer a threat on the run, but he’s also never going to be a key first XI name.

12. Henrik Larsson

Henrik Larsson was a veteran when he moved to the Camp Nou in 2004 after seven years that saw him achieve legendary status at Celtic. A long-term injury might not have helped his transition, but he won over both fans and management with his importance during his second campaign.

He helped the club win La Liga in both years in Catalonia but more notable was his super-sub act in the UEFA Champions League final in 2006, setting up both goals as Barca came from behind to win.

A short stay but extremely productive.

11. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Enigmatic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s stay at Barcelona lasted just a single full season, and much of that was unhappy as Zlatan clashed with then-manager Pep Guardiola, but it was also notable for two reasons.

First, Ibrahimovic’s removal from the side coincided with Messi’s new role in the team, a false nine instead of an in-from-out right-sided forward. Secondly, the Swede was extremely good during the first half of the season.

Ibrahimovic scored in each of his first five Liga games—including against Atletico Madrid and Malaga—as well as scoring the winner against Real Madrid and having 11 league goals in his first 13 Barca outings. Things soured thereafter, but plenty of strikers would love a record of 21 strikes in 46 appearances in a bad year.

10. Cesc Fabregas

Into the top 10. Cesc Fabregas might have made his name and career as a scheming, creative midfielder, but his move back to Barcelona in 2011 coincided with his utilisation for club and country as an alternative forward option.

No doubt arising after he played as a goalscoring No. 10 for Arsenal in his final year or two there, Cesc was often the false nine for Spain and Barca. He managed 15, 14 and 13 goals during his three seasons at the Camp Nou but never made himself a guaranteed starter and duly moved on.

9. Alexis Sanchez

Another player who swapped Barca for the Premier League, Alexis Sanchez couldn’t establish himself in the lineup and moved on to become a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

The Chilean was exclusively a wide option while in Spain, more often than not on the left side as he used his aggression and pace to good effect.

Alexis didn’t get the chance to perform at his best level while at Barca because he was constantly taken out of the team. He has since gone on to become a striker for both club and country, as well as excelling as a leader.

8. Ludovic Giuly

Messi ended up taking Ludovic Giuly’s place when he broke through, with the Frenchman a big part of Frank Rijkaard’s rejuvenation of Barcelona.

Hardworking down the right flank, skillful in possession and one of those selfless wide forwards who seem to create bundles more than they score themselves, Giuly was a good foil for the individualistic talents around him.

Impressive—but not Messi.

7. Thierry Henry


Thierry Henry joined Barcelona in 2007 and spent three years at the club, the first two of which saw him score freely in from the left side of the front line.

After a period of adjusting, Henry was a top performer for Barca, with his pace and ability to net from any angle when cutting in from the channel a cornerstone of the team’s success at the time.

Henry was part of a record-breaking attack, with Messi and a striker who will feature later, that hit a new highest total of combined goals in Spanish football.

6. Pedro Rodriguez

Henry’s departure was due in large part to Pedro’s emergence. The Spaniard was an academy graduate who went on to win five Liga titles and three Champions Leagues with Barcelona.

Pedro could play on either wing for Barca; although he initially featured more heavily on the left, it was on the right side that he excelled, drifting between full-back and centre-back to either score on the run or play countless low crosses that his team-mates finished off.

A haul of 99 goals in over 300 matches showed his importance to the team before big-money signings pushed him out to Chelsea.

5. David Villa

Another Spanish forward, David Villa was a tremendous addition for Barca and mostly operated on the left side of the front three during his time at the club despite being seen as one of the game’s most lethal No. 9s.

He played three years at the Camp Nou, but the middle of those was decimated by a broken leg. Either side of that campaign, he was a vital component, scoring almost 50 goals in total, winning everything along the way, including the Champions League in his first season.

Villa went on to Atletico Madrid before heading to MLS.

4. Samuel Eto’o

The record-breaking trident featuring Messi and Henry on the sides of the attack had Cameroonian forward Samuel Eto’o in the middle, with his pace and relentless goalscoring a feature of Barca in the late 2000s.

In just five years with the club, he scored 130 goals, winning two Champions Leagues and three league trophies along the way.

Eto’o was the direct runner, the omnipresent threat in the box and the clinical touch who benefited from Messi as a younger player, and he remains one of Barcelona’s all-time top scorers.

3. Luis Suarez

Eto’o is pipped as the best No. 9 of Messi’s time, though, by the current starter: Luis Suarez.

While the Cameroonian took five years to get his 130 goals, Suarez is on 121 after just three campaigns at the Camp Nou, and he thrives in the centre of Barcelona’s all-out-attack system. Suarez top-scored in La Liga in 2015/16, with 40, but he also provides a huge volume of assists.

Aggressive, skilful and relentless in his search to win every ball and every match, Suarez will be seen in time as one of Barca’s all-time greats if his stay is prolonged and he continues to lift titles.

2. Neymar

In second is Neymar himself.

The Brazilian became nothing short of sensational while at Barcelona, not just adding to the team in which Messi already starred but actively filling the void in incredible fashion when the No. 10 was absent.

Individual displays in which he carried the team became commonplace while at the Camp Nou, and not just in the high-profile fixtures such as the Champions League comeback victory over Paris Saint-Germain last season.

Neymar has all the technique in the world, an aggressive edge to his game that makes him want to win above all else and, now, has written his name into history with his transfer.

1. Ronaldinho

But Neymar was not Messi’s greatest attacking ally at Barcelona; that accolade remains with Neymar’s predecessor, the great Brazilian No. 10 Ronaldinho.

The creator of Messi’s first goal in Barca colours, Ronaldinho spearheaded the Barcelona revolution—coincidentally after moving the opposite way to Neymar—and fired the imagination of the football world with his wizardry, penchant for the unexpected and magical, gliding style.

There were times of enjoyment in its purest football form when Ronaldinho was in possession, and he was the face of the club for a period—before handing over to Messi, who has been exactly that ever since.


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