x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

South American stars taking up slack during Messi’s injury absence

South American stars making up for Lionel Messi's absence at Barcelona.

Neymar, pictured, and Alexis Sanchez have eased Barcelona fans' fears about their team's fortunes while Lionel Messi recovers from injury. Albert Gea / Reuters
Neymar, pictured, and Alexis Sanchez have eased Barcelona fans' fears about their team's fortunes while Lionel Messi recovers from injury. Albert Gea / Reuters

Lionel Messi was absent through injury, but Barcelona fans were buzzing off the performances of two other South American players in the 4-1 win against Valladolid last weekend.

Alexis Sanchez, who has not always delivered during his time at Camp Nou, is maturing into a more confident performer under coach Gerardo Martino. He scored twice, including the best goal of the game, yet it was summer signing Neymar who stood out.

The Brazilian played in Messi’s usual central attacking role, showing off his skills and invention, beating opponents and bringing teammates into play throughout. It was his best game for Barcelona as they maintained their 100 per cent record.

Neymar was unfortunate not to be awarded two penalties – and the crowd let the referee know.

Celtic fans have accused Neymar of being a diver after last week’s Uefa Champions League game in Glasgow, a line the Madrid media were happy to pick up.

Maybe he was and maybe he will be, but he has not been so far in Spain.

He would have reason if he was: He has been fouled more times than any other player in Spain.

If there was a criticism of Barcelona in recent years, it was their dependence on Messi. Now they have a Plan B. They have Neymar.

Johan Cruyff, the father of modern Barca, claimed that “a ship can’t have two captains”, yet Neymar is playing his role perfectly, a chief officer to Messi, or a captain when the main man isn’t around.

sports@thenational.ae