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How Neymar came of age to pull Barcelona back to a historic win against PSG



In what was one of the most astounding and shocking results ever in the history of football, and certainly in the Champions League where it broke records, it provided the perfect stage for Brazilian forward Neymar to step up to the plate and finally show his claim as the potential successor for Lionel Messi at the Nou Camp.

Neymar reportedly told friends and team-mates before the game that he would score at least two goals as his side would mount the unlikely comeback, so after a fairly unremarkable individual performance and with three goals required to secure the victory on aggregate with only two minutes of normal time left, it seemed that his dreams were long gone.

Up to that point, the left winger’s biggest contribution was to win a penalty which gave the Catalans a real hope of achieving the miracle of winning by four goals to nil. The Brazilian was clumsily taken out by a tumbling Thomas Meunier to allow Lionel Messi to put the home side only one goal away from managing the unbelievable.

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Fast forward to the 88th minute, and it seemed that all hope was gone. Edinson Cavani’s strike meant that Barcelona needed another three goals to emerge victorious on aggregate, surely an impossible task with only two minutes left on the clock. With a free-kick awarded for a foul on the Brazilian, Lionel Messi surprised many by giving up his duties to allow the number eleven to try his luck, and Neymar showed why as he fired a brilliant effort straight into the top corner.

A brief glimmer of hope had re-surfaced, but the pressure was growing and when Luis Suarez was taken down in the box, Messi once again surrendered his duties to give the responsibility to the man who fired the decisive penalty for Brazil at the Rio Olympics in the summer. So often having failed from the spot in La Liga, Neymar showed no sign of a lack of confidence and fired an assured penalty into the bottom corner with Kevin Trapp having been sent the wrong way.

Whilst many expected it to be Messi who would save the day for Luis Enrique and his side, it was the Brazilian who stepped up. One last throw of the dice, and a free-kick won by goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen almost 60 yards from his own goal, was played short to Neymar. With many screaming at the former Santos man to play the ball long into the box, others shouting to shoot, the 25-year-old showed composure and experience to dink a ball over the defence and perfectly onto the toe of the onrushing Sergi Roberto to complete the turnaround with one of the most incredible comebacks ever witnessed in sport.

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Neymar has often been criticised for his inconsistency and his failure to live up to the big occasion, but Wednesday evening showed just how far he has come. With only 14 goals from 34 games so far this season, compared to 31 from 49 last season, has seen some question whether he would ever develop into the world-beating superstar that many had hoped that he would become.

Instead, that Sergi Roberto strike saw him equal his assist tally for the 2015/16 season already, with 15 fewer games played, as he continues to show how he has changed his gameplay to become less selfish and more team oriented. The change has been substantial, and whilst it may have seen more critics come his way, it has certainly helped his team.

Many had questioned whether Neymar was still the man to replace Lionel Messi long-term at the Nou Camp, but on Wednesday he showed that the Brazilian has no desire to wait around for the Argentinean to decline. Instead, he stepped up to the plate and took control in one of the most decisive games of the club’s recent history. Neymar is no longer the boy wonder, he is the superstar.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Faisal BinAli.

Sam is a football journalist focusing on English football at all levels and Spanish football. He also writes for Spain's biggest daily sports newspaper, MARCA, as well as The Boot Room. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.


Would Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele make Liverpool title contenders?

Jurgen Klopp has expressed his interest in the 20-year-old.

Josh Kerr



Photo: Getty Images

Liverpool should make a move for the La Liga ace Ousmane Dembele if the Barcelona winger becomes available this summer.

Manager Jurgen Klopp spoke of his fondness for the 20-year-old in a press conference yesterday and suggested he may be interested in signing the French international.

In quotes reported by the Daily Mail, Klopp admitted he was interested in the former Borrusia Dortmund forward by saying: “Is he on the market? Now I’m interested.”

Klopp’s interest may not actually lead to the club pursuing Dembele.

However, with a current squad losing bodies by the day following a large number of injuries to crucial players, Dembele would be a perfect addition for the Reds.

Some would argue he even may be capable of challenging Sadio Mane in the club’s starting eleven.

(Photo by Cristina Quicler/Getty Images)

Reports linking the club with Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann could spell concerns to the 20-year-old that he isn’t in Ernesto Valverde’s future plans.

The arrival of Dembele’s fellow countryman will make it significantly more difficult for him to keep his place alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Dembele endured a tough first season for the La Liga champions, which included only nine Primera Division starts due to a long-term hamstring injury.

Understandably, a club as competitive as Barcelona can’t afford to wait around for Dembele to fulfill his outstanding potential and, therefore, a move may make sense.

The world’s third most expensive player certainly has the talent to be one of the brightest stars in the game.

If Liverpool genuinely want him, they will have to fork out a lot more than the initial £96.8 million that Barca paid less than 12 months ago.

Following Barcelona’s drawn-out pursuit of former Reds talisman Philippe Coutinho, the tables could now turn.

This time, it would be Jurgen Klopp’s side testing the Catalan giants resolve in their attempts to pry away a once-prized possession for an astronomical fee.

Dembele was initially considered a panic buy after the departure of Neymar to Paris Saint Germain and the Catalan’s failure to sign Coutinho in the same window.

(Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Having now captured Coutinho, and with the club being linked with Griezmann, both of whom can slot into Barcelona’s famous front three, it is difficult to see what Dembele’s role in the team will be next season.

At just 20 years of age, the Frenchman is too talented to sit on the bench and with Liverpool proving themselves to be among the best in Europe this season, he could be the perfect player for Klopp to break the bank, to ensure the Reds continuing improving under his control.

With Naby Keita set to join this summer, and considering Virgil van Dijk’s immediate impact, the addition of another top player, in the form of Dembele, could be the move that allows Klopp’s side to seriously contend for the Premier League next season.

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Is Barcelona’s Andre Gomes the man to take West Ham to the next level?



Photo: Getty Images

This season has been a disappointing one for West Ham as they have once again failed to match the rising expectations of fans and owners after their move to the London Stadium, but there could be hope in the summer with rumours of a sensation signing from Spain.

Barcelona midfielder Andre Gomes is believed to be a target, according to the Mirror, as he looks for a fresh start after a disappointing two years at the Camp Nou.

The former Benfica and Valencia man has struggled to adapt since joining the La Liga leaders and has only been a bit part player this season, with the Hammers ready to make a move to bring him to London.

(Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)

There is no doubting that such a signing would be a coup given the quality of Gomes that he so regularly displayed before moving to Catalonia and he could benefit from moving to a club content with fighting for Europe, rather than titles.

The Portugal international relished his role as a leader in attack and the freedom that came with it in the past, so much so that it earned him his big-money move, and a deal taking him to West Ham could see him return to such a role.

David Moyes’ side have been sorely lacking creativity, particularly with Manuel Lanzini out injured and struggling for consistent form, and Gomes could be the man to help lead a charge back up the table next season after a disastrous 2017/18.

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Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Chelsea held La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

Lionel Messi finally broke his goalscoring duck against Chelsea to give Barcelona the edge after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Messi had failed to score in eight previous attempts against the Blues, but he was not to be denied on this occasion as he cancelled out Willian’s 62nd-minute opener.

A Chelsea clean sheet would have been a massive boost ahead of a daunting trip to the Camp Nou next month.

However, Messi’s equaliser 15 minutes from time means Antonio Conte’s men face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s showpiece competition.

Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge…

Conte’s tactical approach so nearly pays dividends

But for the fatal error that led to Messi’s leveller, Chelsea would be heading to Catalonia in three weeks’ time with a one-goal lead to protect.

That they came so close to victory is testament to Conte’s tactical nous, which stifled Barcelona while also allowing the home side to flourish.

As expected, the visitors dominated the ball throughout the encounter. However, they created precious few opportunities as Chelsea’s back line held firm.

Conte had resisted the temptation to start with an out-and-out striker, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud both named on the bench.

The fluid movement of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Willian caused more problems than Barcelona have been used to this season and the Blues’ second-half goal was a deserved one.

Heading into the second leg, Conte will need to devise another masterplan if Chelsea are to proceed to the last eight.

Third time lucky for impressive Willian

The tricky Brazilian has by no means been a regular for Chelsea this season.

But he was given the nod against Barcelona in a three-man attack that featured Hazard as a false number nine.

It’s a system Conte has favoured recently, but although it failed to get the best out of Hazard, the same could not be said about Willian.

He was Chelsea’s chief threat and, on another night, could have walked off with the match ball.

Willian twice hit the post in the first-half, showing great skill on each occasion to create space and leave Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.

Despite his misfortune, Willian was unbowed and he broke the deadlock with a pinpoint finish that raised the roof at Stamford Bridge.

It was a fitting reward for a top-class performance that highlighted his natural ability.

Surely he can’t be far away from cementing a regular spot in Conte’s starting XI?

Messi ends Chelsea goal drought to have decisive say

It is not often that British football fans get to see the little magician at such close quarters, so each time he arrives on these shores it is to be cherished.

Chelsea had a game-plan to nullify his influence and in the first half this worked superbly.

Although there were the usual sublime touches that we have come to expect, Messi was largely shackled by a solid rearguard display from Chelsea’s three-man central defence.

However, it only takes a side to switch off for a moment for the Argentinian to flex his muscles.

A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, whose pull back enabled Messi to slide the ball past Thibaut Courtois.

Once the ball had arrived to him in the box, there was no doubting where it would nestle.

Messi’s exuberant celebrations underlined the importance of his equaliser in the context of the tie.

It could be the decisive moment.

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