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Neymar’s Improvement At Barcelona Credited To Lionel Messi, But Due To Luis Suarez

Image via Alex Fau/Wikimedia Commons

Neymar credited Lionel Messi with setting his career on the right path at Barcelona, but Luis Suarez deserves just as much praise.

Neymar came with much fanfare when he joined Barcelona, but ultimately disappointed in his first season at the Camp Nou.

It is not to say the Brazilian played poorly, but the boy proclaimed as world football’s next big thing managed eight goals and nine assists in 26 appearances in his first season in Catalonia. That is far from the expected production for such a hyped-up player.

Recently, Neymar credited Lionel Messi with helping him adapt to life with Barcelona. That may be true, especially from a psychological standpoint. However, it is Luis Suarez who deserves a lot of credit for the Brazilian’s blossoming since his first campaign in the Blaugrana.

When Neymar first joined Barcelona, there was no out-and-out striker. Though Alexis Sanchez has taken on a central role at Arsenal this season, and with success, he was not a true No. 9. Neither was Messi, nor Pedro Rodriguez, for that matter. Though Neymar joined those three as top scorers in La Liga that season, his progress was stunted because of the lack of a true center forward. We’ve seen the same situation with the Brazilian national team, though it has improved since Gabriel Jesus entered the fray.

Nevertheless, the lack of a frontman plagued Neymar. He drew criticism for his play, and praise when it improved—which was mainly because of Luis Suarez.

Suarez, bought from Liverpool in the summer of 2014, came onto the scene and has scored 66 league goals to date since joining Barcelona. His presence at the tip of the Barcelona attack spurred Neymar to become the mercurial star he is, and a true Ballon d’Or threat.

A look at Neymar’s statistical growth from 2013/14, his first season, to now shows the spike in production after the inclusion of Suarez, even just on the surface.

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Neymar’s goals, assists, chances created and take-on success all increased quickly in his time at Barcelona. (Via

The addition of Suarez led to Neymar thriving in his left-sided role atop Barcelona’s formation. With a true No. 9 to link up with, play off of and feed, Neymar found far more success than in his first season.

In 2013/14 and 2014/15, Neymar not only doubled his chances created, as displayed above, but he also doubled his key passes. He had 78 combined in his first two years, and had 89 last season. His pass completion dropped from 84 percent to 81 percent in both of the past two full seasons, but he also attempted over 1,200 and 1,400 in those two years, compared to 791 in his first season.

And it all has a lot to do with the tactical advantages of having a true striker up top.

Neymar’s improvement is certainly due in part to acclimating to life in La Liga, and growing and maturing as a player. However, having the talent around him helps a lot, especially in the form of Suarez.

The 24-year-old’s confidence is brimming. Neymar has always been flashy, and capable of the ridiculous, but he hardly showed it in his first season. An example of the newfound belief in himself comes in the form of his 2015 goal against Villarreal.

And, for the cherry on top, it was assisted by… none other than Suarez.

Neymar’s average pass length increased by two-and-a-half meters from 2014/15 to 2015/16. His total shots from outside the area climbed from 16 to 18 to 28 in his first three years. The brilliant ability has come out in force, partly because of the confidence instilled in Neymar. Again, it has to do with growing into his role at Barcelona, but Suarez also plays a big part—offering him passing outlets and creating opportunities.

Having Messi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and more around benefit players like Neymar, giving him room to grow and perform. However, it has been Luis Suarez who has had the greatest impact on Neymar’s improvement over the past three seasons with Barcelona.

In under half the games, Neymar has created just five less chances this season than he did in his first season. His average pass length is over five meters longer, and he has equalled his amounts of shots from outside the penalty area. In a short period of time, he has been able to grow, and as the video below will demonstrate, Luis Suarez has played a big role.

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Julian Boireau.

Neymar scored 24 league goals last season. How many were from outside the penalty area?
Created 12/16/16
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