So, have they been better or have they been worse? That's the question that needs to be answered.
For all the hue and cry that ensued following that gargantuan transfer, one was inevitably compelled to ponder over the possibilities of replacing one of the deadliest attacking combos of all time. Make no mistake. The MSN trio was undoubtedly and unquestionably one of the greatest attacking tridents in footballing history and certainly the greatest in Barca's history.
Clubs do not win a continental treble by fluke. The treble of 2015 was no fluke either. It takes exceptional quality to maintain sustained brilliance over the course of an entire season involving the domestic cup, the domestic league and the UEFA Champions League.
Yet, for all the funky stepovers that Neymar used to bamboozle his opponents with on the left flank, now that he hasn't been at the Camp Nou for an entire season and a half, have Barca felt the pinch of his absence?
It wouldn't be wise to think so and there are certain points worth being noted here.
If anything, his departure has opened up space on the left flank for Jordi Alba. Lionel Messi would rather perform to the best of his abilities with someone whom he has an extraordinarily deep mutual understanding than with someone who is naturally gifted but is hardly on the same wavelength.
Alba has been directly involved in 10 goals, scoring one and assisting nine in the LaLiga this season with 16 matches still remaining.
History is evident of the fact that the core of Barca's strength has always been subconscious interoperability between each and every single player present on the field.
There is a different plane, a different dimension altogether in which Barca operates. Every player subconsciously knows where the other is. That's what makes Los Blaugranas near invincible. Seriously, they would have finished the previous season as invincibles in the LaLiga had it not been for an utter breakdown at the hands of Levante at the Estadi Ciutat de València last season.
Alba and Messi can literally pass the ball to each other with their eyes closed. At least that much has been evident since Neymar made his switch to Les Parisiennes. Even though they no longer have the genius of Xavi and Iniesta in the midfield, Barca's style of play remains as unpredictable as ever.
Arthur Melo was purportedly compared to Xavi by fans following his out of the world assist that cut across eight Sevilla players to set up Ivan Rakitic in the 6-1 thrashing of Sevilla at the Camp Nou. Arthur is definitely not on the same level as Xavi yet, but he has shown immense promise going forward.
Messi has always been an all-rounder. He can be used in all positions from the midfield to attack. With Neymar out of the way, Luis Suarez has more space up front. Moreover, both Ousmane Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho can act as wingers, attacking midfielders and even forwards if the need arises.
It would be a slight exaggeration to state that Neymar was restricting other players' freedom at Barca. The main point here is that Barca have been fully capable of playing free-flowing football even after the Brazilian left them.
It is not right to judge a team's footballing prowess solely by the number of trophies it has got in its cabinet. Everyone has a bad day at work every now and then. It is perfectly normal to make mistakes and in the case of Barca, it takes just one bad result to spoil months of hard work.
Going forward, the success of any football squad is directly proportional to its depth. There are times when the manager needs to rest key players in certain matches that are relatively less important.
Squad rotation often leads to a certain drop in the quality of a team and yet, with the signing of Frenkie de Jong, Barca have ensured that the drop in quality at least in the midfield will always be zero no matter how many times the squad is rotated.
So, in a nutshell, Neymar's departure was definitely a loss worth being considered. Nevertheless, it was never a loss that Barca could not deal with.Published 03 Feb 2019, 18:02 IST