In World Cup Watch in edition 872 of this week's Soccer Laduma, we analysed why Neymar's recent poor form for Barcelona could be a problem for Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.
In some ways, the Cristiano Ronaldo problem for Portugal has become the Neymar problem for Brazil. That both are superbly gifted players is not in any question; both are supremely skilful, capable of devastating pace off the mark, and both are potential match winners.
But they can also be lazy and negligent of their defensive duties, and allow an opposing fullback free reign to get forward. Yes, they may be able win games with individual brilliance, but both can create at times almost unsolvable tactical challenges.
Perhaps, particularly because of the industry and workrate of Oscar and Fernandinho, Brazil could get away with Neymar if they had a more solid full-back behind him. But they don’t and from this point of view, it’s easy to imagine Brazil being torn to pieces by an intelligent side playing on the counter with fast wingers.
Never was this point made clearer when Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben made Barcelona’s lazy wingers pay in the semi-finals of the 2012/13 Champions League. With that said, it’s true that Brazil weren’t quite as vulnerable in the 2013 Confederations Cup, and there are some other reasons to believe Neymar’s defensive limitations won’t be exposed.
It’ll be most likely that Phil Scolari’s thinking will be that his two holding midfielders, Fernandinho and Luis Gustavo, will move out to the flanks to provide cover if Neymar goes missing. Encouragingly as well in the Confed Cup triumph of 2013, there were signs that some of Brazil’s best defensive work mirrored that seen in the Pep Guardiola era of Barcelona.
It’s true to say that no team has ever pressed as well as Barca under Pep – this requires complete discipline, tactical smarts and extreme fitness. This was something Neymar and his team showed in great abundance in Brazil’s memorable 3-0 win over Spain in the Confed final. A match which suggested terminal cancer had set in for the Tiki-taka methodology of football.
His appetite for dirty work was matched by his unbelievable quality in the tournament. Neymar is capable of performing his defensive duties, he has showed this for his country. Yet the Confed was over a year ago and Neymar’s recent showings for Barcelona have been flat, uninspired and ordinary at both ends of the pitch.
It may go against the grain to say it, but it is realistic to think that if Neymar cannot re-discover the zest and passion he showed defensively and offensively in the Confed, then Brazil’s hopes of winning the 2014 World Cup are already over.
Then again if he can...the five-time world champions might just be unstoppable.
Have your say - Can Neymar re-find his best form and help win the World Cup for Brazil?