Neymar grabs a brace for Barcelona in their 2-1 victory against Juventus and punched the air in delight, despite rumours of his departure to psg.
A somewhat ironic/bitter take on the Cardiff UEFA Champions League final (depending on who you were supporting) might be that two matches were performed, one per half. The first half was your regular thrilling final, with both teams showing why they were there. The second half was the Real Madrid solo show, with an unrecognizable, inoperant Juventus.
Around a month and a half after that final, Juventus was once again engaged in a similar match. Except Barça was somewhat more willing to the inconsistent tango. An understandable situation – it was a preseason friendly, after all. Except the newcomer – Ernesto Valverde- can go to sleep smiling, while knowing there are areas to work on.
As for Allegri, set to serve his fourth season as coach, he should probably reconsider his strategy. Regardless of the mix of the A and B team displayed (something both clubs did) or Neymar’s wonder show, the team was reminiscent of the last 45 minutes in Cardiff. And it had nothing to do with the lack of Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci.
The Neymar Show
Barcelona didn’t feature Germany goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, who participated in Germany’s 2017 Confederations Cup. Nélson Semedo, the newest acquisition, was benched. Aleix Vidal made a return, Paco Alcácer filled in for Luis Suárez, and thus the forward line had 2/3 of the MSN.
While Suárez may have been missed, there’s no denying Alcácer takes a bit longer to catch up to his companions but it didn’t change the feeling of the game.
However, the star was certainly Neymar. Surrounded once more by PSG transfer rumours, his sole focus was on the game. Alcácer, who’s been continuously questioned, showed he may not be Suárez, but he can understand and establish a partnership with his fellow forwards. He assisted Neymar, who made it 1-0 after only fifteen minutes.
Neymar added another just eleven minutes later, with a solo run and a sublime finish to beat Juventus veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Messi also displayed his genius by making a disguised run to allow Neymar admission into a goal scoring opportunity, which resulted in the Brazilian doubling his tally
One strong argument for Neymar’s departure is that he’s not young by football standards anymore, and it is time for him to shine on his own. That waiting for Messi’s decline is unfair. But Messi was still there nearly missing free kicks, and yet Neymar shone without question.
For the second half, Valverde made a complete overhaul. Suárez was in and Messi and Neymar were out. Sergi Roberto returned to midfield, and Semedo made his debut. One curious variant was in Denis Suárez being positioned as a fellow forward to Luis Suarez and Arda Turan.
Juventus didn’t make many changes early on (only Marchisio, who’d had a heated argument with Neymar following his landing on the latter’s face, and Khedira), but by the 59th minute mark, Juventus came closer on the forward lines to the main squad, albeit with some newly acquired faces.
The difference was felt immediately. Barça stepped back and the show seemed to be run by Dybala. In fact, it was his attempt what led to the Chiellini’s header in the 63rd minute. Juventus could remontar, but that didn’t happen.
As the half went on, Barça didn’t recover that sparkle nor were they as effective, but had an order fans may have missed. The best phrasing would be that players did what they had to do. Arda was subpar, but there was Sergi Roberto, linking up with Luis Suárez.
If Neymar was missed, it’s sad to say Iniesta wasn’t much. Semedo did a decent job, not like he had much to do anyway. Higuaín was unable to make an impact and Cuadrado was scarcely mentioned.
As with any preseason game, the results can’t be set in stone. There are chances some new arrivals could be loaned out. Now, there’s still the growing Neymar rumour. The team dynamics can change in the following days until the seasons officially start.
It doesn’t take away the team feeling. Barça fans left feeling confident, albeit wishing Neymar fully dismissed the reports. There will be time to think about how the team is good, but shows when the MSN only has its center piece.
Juve fans, however, have every reason to be concerned. Sure, Chiellini has taken up the backbone role even more than before. However, the likes of Lichtsteiner and Sturaro are still there, as forwards go dormant after some flashes.
Once more, until the new season starts, anything can happen.