Luis Enrique may be missing his main man, but since the Argentine has been out the Catalan club’s other two South American forwards have flown the flag in La Liga and Europe
Panic struck for Barcelona when Lionel Messi was struck down through injury in the Liga clash at home to Las Palmas on September 26, but time and again since then Neymar and Luis Suarez have shown that the Blaugrana have plenty to cheer for even without their Argentine attacker.
Messi managed only nine minutes before limping off at Camp Nou and travelling to hospital for tests that later confirmed he would miss somehwere in the region of two months, placing his fitness in doubt for the Clasico clash at Real Madrid on November 21.
And with the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu now just around the corner after the forthcoming international break, it looks like Messi may not be back in time. Recent performances from his two team-mates, however, mean that may be less of a drama than it had first seemed.
Suarez stepped up immediately. The Uruguayan striker scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Las Palmas to get Barca through what was potentially a difficult afternoon, with the image of their finest footballer hurt and injured clearly in the minds of the players in an unpopular early kick-off at Camp Nou.
Since then, Suarez has scored in wins against Bayer Leverkusen, Rayo Vallecano, Getafe and BATE Borisov, as well as netting all three in the 3-1 victory at home to Eibar late last month. Nine goals in eight appearances and he has provided a couple of assists in that time, too. Messi, no doubt, will be pleased.
But Neymar has done even better. The Brazilian forward took time to find his best form after Messi’s injury, perhaps affected by the case accusing him of alleged tax fraud in his move from Santos in 2013. But he has hit eight goals in the Argentine’s absence: his side’s sole strike in the 2-1 loss at Sevilla (Barca’s only defeat in that time), four in the 5-2 win over Rayo, one in the 2-0 success at Getafe and two more in the 3-0 victory at home to BATE last week.
That’s one fewer than Suarez, but it is his overall contribution that is even more impressive. Since Messi’s injury, Neymar has racked up six assists in eight appearances, creating 36 chances for his team-mates and completing 46 dribbles to the Uruguayan’s 12.
“We miss Messi because he is the best,” Neymar said after his double on Wednesday night. “But I’m in a great moment and I’m confident I’ll continue like this.”
Since Messi’s injury, Barca have scored 13 times in La Liga and between them, Neymar and Suarez have been responsible for netting all of those.
In the Champions League, meanwhile, Ivan Rakitic hit a vital double to give the Catalans a hard-fought 2-0 win away to BATE and Sergi Roberto was on hand to net the leveller as Luis Enrique’s side made a late comeback to beat Bayer Leverkusen at Camp Nou. It was Suarez, though, who popped up with the winner in that one.
In total, Neymar and Suarez have contributed 17 out of 20 goals for Barca since the Argentine hurt his knee.
“We will always miss Messi,” Luis Enrique said recently. “But Neymar and Suarez have shown that we also have other options.”
After his side beat BATE on Wednesday with the two South Americans again taking the lead, the Asturian coach added: “We obviously miss Messi a great deal – but I’ve always said the team had resources.
“There is no mention of ‘Messi-dependence’ because the team is winning and playing well.”
And with the Clasico now just two weeks away, that’s the best news of all for fans of the Catalan club.