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.
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.
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.
Three things learnt from Tottenham’s penalty defeat to Barcelona: More depth needed
Tottenham faced one of the toughest possible tests in pre-season as they faced up against Barcelona, who took a 2-0 lead through Munir El Haddadi and Arthur within the first half an hour.
It looked as though the Spanish side could romp home to a convincing victory, but a two minute double salvo from Heung Min Son and substitute George Nkoudou pulled the tie back level before a penalty shoot-out when Anthony Georgiou’s miss confined the English team to defeat.
Here are three things we learnt from the clash…
Spurs are lacking strength in depth
Ending the game with a central midfield duo of Luke Amos and Oliver Skipp, neither of whom have made a first team debut in a competitive fixture, it just goes to show just how few options Mauricio Pochettino has at present with his World Cup aces absent.
What makes matters even worse is that injuries continue to pile up as Moussa Sissoko suffered a hamstring strain whilst Erik Lamela was forced to warm up alone due to an injury concern. Adding that into an already shallow squad and there is potential for a recipe for disaster.
“It’s amazing to give the possibility to players like Luke Amos or Oliver Skipp, and they were fantastic. We need to take positive things. Luke and Oliver are having time in competition with the first team and I think that is an amazing experience and it’s fantastic for our youngsters to live that experience. We need to take positive things in a negative period with some injuries to players.”
Cameron Carter-Vickers could have a role to play
With only one natural central defender on the pitch for Tottenham, it was a real chance to shine for Cameron Carter-Vickers as he continued his audition for a role in the first team next season after loan spells at Sheffield United and Ipswich Town last season.
In a brief blip he allowed Munir El Haddadi to run free and head home an equaliser, but he made several strong challenges and co-ordinated the back line in a way which belies his youth and lack of experience. He may not be up to the level of player Tottenham would usually look for, but if no signing can be found, they could certainly do worse than trusting the American.
Riqui Puig could have been the answer
One of the unexpected stars of the show was young Barcelona midfielder Riqui Puig, a teenager who was strongly linked with a move to Tottenham earlier this summer by a range of sources, including SPORT. The dazzling and skillful display in the middle of the park from one of the least experienced players on the pitch showed why Spurs were interested.
Had Puig been dressed in the white of Tottenham, things could have been very different. Lacking depth in the middle of the park and with a spot for an exciting, attacking individual, Puig may well have been the player to make the difference.
West Ham are right to cash in on Barcelona’s Domingos Quina interest
Manuel Pellegrini and West Ham have been clear in their desire to retain all of their top talents this summer, but with Barcelona now hovering around 18-year-old Domingos Quina, they may be left with no choice.
According to Sky Sports, the Spanish giants are keen on the Portuguese youth international and West Ham are prepared to do business for a fee of around £600,000.
The suggestion that West Ham would be willing to do business at such a low price appears to directly contradict the claims made by Slaven Bilic after the youngster signed a professional deal with the club in 2016.
“He is one of those players that you think if he doesn’t make it, then which player will? He has got everything and it is now down to us and up to him how much he is going to improve and dedicate his life to achieve something that God gave him. There is no doubt he has something exceptional. He is skilful and is one of those players who doesn’t have to think about his first touch because it comes so naturally to him. He is not afraid of challenges and has skill and vision.”
Despite that, it could make sense for the club to consider a deal. Quina would likely be desperate to make such a move and the club have already made it clear in previous negotiations with young players that they will not be held to ransom.
With just six first team appearances, Quina is yet to establish himself in the first team under Bilic or David Moyes and he is yet to join Pellegrini for training as he takes part in the Under 19 European Championships.
The attacking midfielder has been subject to interest before and so it is nothing new to the Hammers, but they clearly feel that now may be the time to sell. Coming up to a crucial moment in his career, Quina appears to be no closer to a first team breakthrough and has just a year left on his contract.
Having seen out his deal at Chelsea to join the Irons in 2016, West Ham bosses may fear such a situation arising again and will be concerned that Quina is demanding a clear pathway to first team football.
At the London Stadium, that does not appear possible at present given the overload of options in midfield after a summer of spending, and that could be what persuades Quina to force a move away.
It may be disappointing for West Ham fans to see such an exciting talent depart east London, but given the situation, it may appear that they have little choice.
Three questions ahead of Tottenham Hotspur’s friendly clash against Barcelona
The Lilywhites continue their pre-season tour against the Catalan giants.
On Saturday, Tottenham Hotspur face off against Spanish champions Barcelona in their second match of their U.S. pre-season tour.
Here are three things to look out for as Spurs will look to build on their impressive 4-1 win over Roma, featuring Lucas Moura, Malcom, and Lucas Digne.
Can Lucas Moura continue his eye-catching preseason?
The Brazilian failed to make much of an impact after joining Tottenham from Paris Saint-Germain in January, yet Lucas Moura has began this preseason with a purpose.
After bagging a goal in Tottenham’s 6-0 win over Southend last week, he turned in a brilliant two-goal performance against Roma on Wednesday.
If Moura can continue his fine attacking form against Barcelona, he may add to his case for a starting role come the start of the Premier League season.
Will former Tottenham transfer target Malcom come back to haunt them?
Malcom’s transfer saga has been perhaps the wildest story of the transfer window, with the Brazilian winger linked with a whole host of clubs before Barcelona swooped in and signed him this week.
The former Bordeaux player was strongly linked with Spurs earlier on in the summer, and could be set to make his Barcelona debut against the north Londoners.
It will surely be fascinating to see how the 21-year-old will perform in a Barca kit, and it could be a painful reminder for Spurs supporters of what might have been.
How will Everton target Lucas Digne fare?
According to Sky Sports, Everton are interested in signing Barcelona left-back Lucas Digne.
The Frenchman has been brought on Barca’s preseason tour in order to possibly increase his transfer value with some impressive displays, and it will be illuminating to see how the Toffees target will fare against Premier League opposition.
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