3 ways in which Neymar's return could affect Barcelona
The season could not have started any worse for Barcelona, as they suffered an opening day defeat at San Mames, against Athletic Bilbao. The Spanish champions were without the services of their Lionel Messi, and their lackluster performance at the Basques stadium only showed how much they missed the genius of their captain.
Neymar has been on the transfer news for weeks now, with his intentions of leaving Paris Saint Germain having been made public. It has been iterated over and over again that he wishes to come back home to Barcelona, and the Blaugrana's defeat against Athletic Bilbao is only serving to heat this saga further. But how will the Catalan club be affected, should he indeed arrive this summer?
Since Neymar's departure in 2017, Barcelona has been on the lookout to find his replacement, but none have been able to fill his shoes. Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho, both of whom were tremendous prospects, have failed to live up to the potential they were expected to demonstrate. This summer, Barcelona signed Antoine Griezmann to bolster their attack and provide another source of creativity in attack, besides Lionel Messi. But, if Barcelona all this time have been looking to fill his void, wouldn't it just solve the problem if Neymar himself returned?
Well, it might not be as straightforward as it sounds. Here, we analyze how he could affect Barcelona.
#1. Unbalanced frontline
The addition of Neymar surely would add a tremendous attacking force to Barca's frontline, but that would also leave them with Messi, Suarez, Griezmann, Dembele, and Neymar all competing for a place in the starting eleven.
While that might sound like a nice problem to have, it would be impossible to keep all of them satisfied if any of them had to play the role of backup forward. Dembele is coming of age, and is in desperate need of minutes in the team, as Barca sees a future world-beater in him. Neymar being in the starting eleven would not only take minutes away from Dembele but also force either Suarez or Griezmann to play second fiddle.
Many possible lineups to accommodate all the forwards have been proposed by fans and media. However, one common feature in all of these lineups is that there would be at least 3-4 players in the form of Neymar, Messi, Suarez or Dembele, who wouldn't help out defensively at all.
Just having Griezmann, Messi, and Suarez as the frontline would feel far more balanced for Barca, as Griezmann's tremendous work rate, thanks to him being trained under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, would be very useful for the Blaugranas. Messi, Suarez, and Dembele generally stay high up the pitch and do not track back and help in pressing the opposition. Adding Neymar to that, who is a similar character, would make the team defensively very vulnerable. It would also unbalance the midfield and make it very difficult to transition from defense to attack or provide midfield support to the forwards; features which define the ethos of Barcelona's game.
If Neymar does indeed return, then Barcelona would certainly have to drop one or even two of their current forwards from the starting lineup, now that Griezmann is here too. Luis Suarez has looked like a shadow of himself for almost seasons now and has also been suffering from constant knee problems, that has cost him his pace and ferocity. He will be the likely candidate to be benched, along with Ousmane Dembele, who has struggled to find his feet in Barcelona since arriving from Borussia Dortmund 2 years ago.
#2 Enormous wages
Besides destabilizing the whole lineup, Neymar would also shoot up the wage bill for the Catalan club, who already are in huge debt, because of having so many stars on their roster. Without offloading some of the bigger names like Suarez, Barcelona would find it nearly impossible to keep up with such a wage bill.
The arrival of Neymar would certainly destabilize a lot of things at the club off the pitch, as well as in the team. Stability is something that Barcelona has been striving to establish in the team, since the departures of Xavi and Iniesta, so Neymar would certainly add to that problem. But looking past these issues, can Neymar make the team better than it already is?
#3 Impetus to attack
Fans have been pointing out for long that the creative prowess that Neymar brings to the table is essential to take the load off of Lionel Messi. Goalscoring chances in European knockout games, that Dembele, Suarez, and Coutinho failed to finish or take advantage of, are also often looked at as opportunities that Neymar would have made the most of. Even in Barca's recent defeat against Athletic Bilbao, the team completely lacked creativity and inspiration, in the absence of Lionel Messi.
Right now, Messi is the only reliable source of goals for Barcelona in Europe, where Luis Suarez has struggled to score. The last time he scored an away goal in the Champions League was in September 2015, a stat that no Barcelona forward would be proud of. Even against Bilbao, without Lionel Messi, Barcelona looked bereft of ideas on the pitch. They were desperate for some inventive and visionary play from the midfield or the forwards, and no one could step up.
Neymar Jr, with all the creativity, vision and technical ability that he has, can certainly help form a devastating forward line for Barca, but accommodating him in the team would certainly be a huge ask. Ernesto Valverde has often been criticized for his poor man-management, and adding the problem of Neymar certainly won't make life any easier for him. All that said, proper management of all the stars at Barca can once again make Neymar the irreplaceable superstar he once was, should the prodigal son indeed return to the Nou Camp.