A reborn Neymar is lightening up the charts at PSG, with his season statistics surpassing even Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Beating Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo was the last thing on Neymar’s mind five months earlier at PSG.
He spent the entire summer injured with a metatarsal problem and saw an attempted Barcelona comeback fall through. Life was bleak, with PSG supporters infuriated over his actions.
Missing the opening five games of the club’s 2019/20 campaign made matters worse. Especially as he was pushing for an exit, while his teammates were out there on the pitch.
Not even scoring the winner on his return to action against Strasbourg could redeem Neymar. Boos and offensive chants from the fans followed him everywhere in Paris.
“It is not the first time I have been booed by everyone,” said the 27-year-old.
“It is sad but I know that, from now on, every game I play will be an away game.”
Indeed, the idea of Neymar ever winning back the affection of PSG’s Ultras seemed impossible.
But, as football has proved countless times in the past, the unthinkable is always possible.
The new & improved Neymar
After an injury-barren two years, Neymar is finally beginning to live up to his world-record €222m price tag.
Since returning from a hamstring injury in November, the Brazilian has been in a superb run of form. 11 goals and eight assists have come in his last 13 appearances across all competitions.
His overall statistics this season have been better than former Barcelona teammate Messi and Ronaldo.
While Neymar’s endless array of tricks, feints and dribbling skills are back in full swing. It’s a pleasing sight for everyone, with PSG reaping the rewards for their tolerance.
“Something has changed,” confessed head coach Thomas Tuchel.
“His effort is fantastic now. I’m convinced that he wants to keep it up.”
Tuchel’s change in tactics may have played a part in Neymar’s performances. They have allowed him to exploit defences with his creativity and thrive in the club’s star-studded attack.
Since his world-record arrival in 2017, Neymar has contributed 105 goals in 76 appearances for PSG in all competitions.
These stats show up well compared to Neymar’s previous ones at old clubs Barcelona and Santos.
The forward is averaging 0.87 goals and 0.51 assists per game in the French capital. This beats his 0.56 goals and 0.4 assists per game in a Barcelona jersey, which says a lot.
Although Ligue 1’s lack of competitiveness compared to La Liga may slightly diminish these solid statistics.
Still, it’s a remarkable feat and shows just how pivotal Neymar can be for PSG. Even the Ultras have toned down their denunciation of him, and may finally be ready to forgive.
Another notable change for Neymar is the way he’s grown closer to his Parisian teammates. The days of arguing over penalty duties are over, with the player’s focus on the team instead.
Beating Ronaldo & Messi not the priority
There were a lot of suggestions behind the Brazilian’s shock exit from Barcelona in 2017.
The most consistent one was Neymar’s desire to escape Lionel Messi’s shadow at Camp Nou. Apparently, he felt the Argentine was suppressing his chances as a potential Ballon d’Or winner.
A then 25-year-old Neymar made the bold decision to end his Blaugrana career for a big-money move to PSG.
Almost three years later, however, the player set the record straight on his true aims.
“I never play to be number one. I do it because I love football and I feel happy on the pitch,” Neymar told France Football.
“Why would I want to leave? I have two years left on my contract and I want the team to keep progressing. My objective is the Champions League.”
Aiding PSG’s hopes of winning Europe’s biggest club competition is their new-look attack, dubbed “The Fantastic Four”.
It comprises Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi. Together, they’ve ripped defences apart in Ligue 1 and Europe this term.
For any team facing these four players simultaneously is a terrifying prospect, and could be the winning-formula PSG have so desperately craved for in Europe all these years.
And when you take into account Tuchel’s reputation as a brilliant tactician, the Parisians might be the full package.
Interesting times await for Neymar in Paris over the next few months.