Is Barcelona better off without Neymar Jr?
FC Barcelona was the home of Brazilian superstar Neymar until this season, but he chose to shine by himself rather than being shadowed by the brilliance of Messi. So, he left for Paris to play for PSG in the French League when the club paid his release clause of €222m euros.
Before leaving, he was an integral part of the most fearsome trident, MSN (Messi, Suarez, Neymar) and was regarded as the natural heir to Messi's throne after his departure. During his 4 seasons with the club, he won 8 trophies scoring 105 goals in all competitions.
Without him, Barcelona have continued to be prolific this season, losing a single game in all competitions and conceding the least number of goals in Europe's top 5 leagues.This has led to various opinions and we try to analyze if the departure of Neymar has been a blessing in disguise.
Alongside Messi and Suarez, he formed the deadly trident which traumatized several teams in a span of 3 years and scored goals like it were a walk in the park. In Barcelona, he was an instant success and with his skill and energy he was slowly developing into a future superstar.
In 3 seasons under Luis Enrique, Neymar was part of a team that won 8 trophies, including a historic treble. With Messi and Neymar on both flanks, and Suarez scoring goals, the team was looking simply unbeatable, but strategically the team was losing its domination.
The positional dominance of Barcelona in the midfield, was significantly lower as the team had reverted to a more direct style of play involving the front three. The 4-3-3 formation used by Enrique was paying rich dividends, as they were creating numerous chances and scoring lots of goals.
But against teams with attacking depth and a compact defence, the formation was not working as Barcelona was prone to a quick counter-attack. Whenever the ball was lost outside the opponent's box, the team was often sliced open by incisive passes on the flanks or an overhead ball to a lone striker. To cut that option off, counter-pressing was necessary, but it seemed that the coach wasn't interested in the viable option.
This ploy was increasingly seen against Barcelona last season and it was truly frustrating. Intelligent coaches picked out this flaw repeatedly, exploiting it and this mounted pressure on the midfielders and defenders as the strikers were leaving open spaces to be used against them. This led to many defeats like 4-3 against Celta Vigo away at Balaidos, 3-1 against Manchester City at Etihad, and the famous 4-0 drubbing by PSG in Paris.
Defenders under pressure, strikers not covering their lines, goals being leaked and the team was actually getting dominated by other teams. As a result, Barcelona suffered in 2016-17 season as they lost to Juventus in the Champions League quarters, and Real Madrid climbed up to regain the La Liga title. Problems were creeping in and a solution was inevitable before it was too late.
Barcelona was on the brink of disaster, when Luis Enrique decided to step down amidst criticism from last season's failure. The club appointed Ernesto Valverde to take over the reins and to provide a fresh start to a new season.
Then came the shock, as Neymar decided to leave Barcelona to join PSG, and the French club willingly met his release clause. Neymar gone and the team stunned, Valverde needed a cautious approach to bring back the lost mojo.
He took a reserved approach and instilled his strategy and philosophy into the team. The team started playing with a compact 4-4-2 formation with 4 midfielders looking to dominate the midfield and feed Messi,Suarez upfront. The team was looking in the right kind of shape and trying to maintain it throughout the 90 minutes.
The needed a bit of time to adapt to this formation, but soon enough it was working. Barcelona were not outrageously offensive, like with Neymar, but deployed a more conservative and tactical approach by creating moves from the midfield.
The Barca dominance had returned, and even if the team was not creating that many chances, they were clinical. With a watertight defense and flowing midfield, Barcelona looked like a team with utter conviction and resolve.
The results started showing up, and Barcelona have conceded the least no. of goals in Europe this season. Moreover, they are in a strong position to secure a third treble in Europe. So, letting Neymar go has not been a bad decision as far as the results show.
And the relevant answer to the question is - Yes, Barcelona is better without Neymar from a tactical viewpoint despite many people not agreeing.