La Liga Could Turn Into One-Horse Race, As Messi and Neymar Partnership Heats Up

It is still very early in the Spanish season, but Barcelona are giving every indication that there is going to be no repeat of last year’s up-and-down performances.

For all the questions regarding the La Liga giants’ defence, Luis Enrique’s men have yet to concede a goal after four La Liga matches. Although the Blaugrana haven’t faced ‘stiff’ competition during their early league campaign, Marc Bartra and Gerard Pique have been solid and Barcelona as whole look better in defence than they have in recent years.

But the story to date has been the partnership between Lionel Messi and his second-year teammate, Neymar.

Injuries and poor form were the headline grabbers for both of these star players last season. The South Americans never seemed to get a string of consistent matches together as they struggled to adjust to each other, and to former Barcelona manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s tactics.

But Luis Enrique has returned the club, which he spent eight seasons playing as a midfielder, and brought with him the club’s familiar attractive, attacking football. And that has bode well for his diminutive Argentinian forward and his Brazilian strike partner.

Yesterday’s match against Levante saw Messi shrug off a missed penalty by scoring one goal and setting up two more. The four-time Ballon d’Or winner has collected three goals and four assists in Barcelona’s opening league fixtures; he also assisted the club’s only goal during the opening match of the Champions League group stages against Apoel Nicosia last week.

Messi has shown an increasing awareness of his Barcelona teammates during this early stretch. His assist total could well be approaching double digits at this point, had some of his teammates done better with their finishing.

But the best news for Barcelona supporters has to be that Messi has really started to connect with Neymar over the past few matches. The Argentinian has gone out of his way to seek out the Brazilian forward and it has shown in the statistics.

Neymar has slowly returned to 100% fitness as he recovered from a fractured vertebra, which he suffered during Brazil’s quarterfinal win over Colombia during this summer’s World Cup.

But the forward has hit the ground running, scoring three times in his first two La Liga fixtures since his return to the Barcelona lineup; with all three goals being set up by Messi.

The cohesion and productivity of his two South American players hasn’t been lost on Barcelona manager Luis Enrique.

“With Leo Messi we are talking about a unique, special player. His teammates know well that he has the ball, he can not only beat players but assist them magnificently,” he said following Barcelona’s 5-0 over Levante.

“I love that the players find these conditions amongst themselves and take advantage of Leo’s quality in this case.”

“Today he assisted in a number goals in a spectacular way and also scored. I think it was a complete game from everyone.”

Speaking about Neymar, the 44-year-old manager said: “He has the quality to receive the ball to feet and he has the quality to attack spaces.”

“Every striker has to look for that variety and I am not just speaking about Neymar, but I thought the movement of Sandro, Pedro (Rodriguez) and Leo (Messi) was good. I could speak about the whole team and the offensive and defensive work they did.”

Neymar did suffer a “knock” during the match against Levante and had to be substituted. The Brazilian striker looked as though he was prepared to stay on, but Enrique elected to remove him as a precaution.

With Messi and Neymar clicking, and Barcelona’s defence keeping clean sheets, the Blaugrana have an early four-point lead over defending La Liga champions Atletico Madrid; as well as a six-point advantage over rivals Real Madrid on the league table.

It’s still early going. Atletico and Real have already faced each other, while Barcelona have yet to meet either of those two league opponents. But Lionel Messi, Neymar and the club appear to have shaken off the malaise of last season.

Gone are the questions about Messi’s work rate and his happiness at the club. Also gone are the questions surrounding the partnership between the Argentinian and his star Brazilian striker.

With Real Madrid stumbling out of the gate and Atletico Madrid drawing twice during their opening four fixtures, Barcelona already have their necks in front of their biggest La Liga threats in the early part of the title race.

Should things continue as they have been since the start of the new campaign, La Liga could be turning into a one-horse race.

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  1. Ivan September 22, 2014
  2. Tony Butterworth September 22, 2014
  3. CelticFC September 22, 2014
  4. Prince Murombedzi September 22, 2014
  5. Peter Quinn September 22, 2014

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