The South American pair netted all three goals in Barcelona’s 3-0 win at home to Villarreal on Sunday and may even eclipse the usual suspects in the scoring charts this term
It’s always one or the other. Even since Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid in 2009, it has been either the Portuguese or Barcelona rival Lionel Messi leading the scoring charts in Spain. But the duo’s dominance in front of goal could be under threat this term if Neymar and Luis Suarez keep up their current form.
Ronaldo and Messi have won the Pichichi prize given to the top scorer in La Liga three times apiece over the last six seasons, with those two also the leading marksmen in all competitions by some distance between 2009-10 and 2014-15.
The Portuguese has made his usual strong start this time around as well, with 13 goals in his 14 appearances so far in 2015-16. Messi, who has been out since September 26 through injury, is understandably further behind with six strikes in his nine matches.
But in the Argentine’s absence, Neymar and Suarez have stepped up with the goals. Barca’s other two South American forwards have now netted 20 of the side’s last 23 in all competitions – as well as all 16 Liga goals since the four-time Ballon d’Or winner limped off against Las Palmas.
Villarreal did not make things easy in Sunday’s match and Barca had to wait until the second half despite creating chances from the outset.
And when the breakthrough came, it arrived from a familiar source: Neymar. The Brazilian dispatched a fine finish after Villarreal had given the ball away in their own half and Sergio Busquets had picked out the 23-year-old with a pinpoint pass.
In the meantime, Suarez’s shooting had been erratic, but he had the chance to make it 2-0 later on as Munir El Haddadi won a penalty and Neymar generously gave the Uruguayan the opportunity to print his name on the scoresheet. It was a gift too good to turn down and Suarez slotted home to double Barca’s lead.
The game’s most memorable moment, however, belonged to Neymar. The Brazilian controlled a bouncing ball in the area with his stomach, flipped it over his head with his right foot to leave his marker dumbfounded and volleyed past Villarreal goalkeeper Alphonse Areola. It was a stunning strike reminiscent of Barca legends like Ronaldinho and Rivaldo – and it won him a huge ovation from the Camp Nou crowd.
The Brazilian’s double means he now has 13 goals in 14 games for Barcelona in 2015-16, while Suarez’s strike saw the Uruguayan take his tally for the season to 13 in 17 games.
Ronaldo failed to net in Madrid’s meeting with Sevilla later on Sunday as Los Blancos lost 3-2, so both players are now level with the Portuguese and Messi (who is still recovering from injury), will have some catching up to do when he returns to action for the Catalan club.
Asked if Neymar is now the second best player in the world behind Messi, Luis Enrique said: “That’s up to others to decide. I’m just privileged to have unique players who work for the good of the collective.”
And on the excellent relationship between Messi, Neymar and Suarez, he added: “We saw that from the start. But it’s the same for the whole squad. We are lucky to have these players.”
The win sees Barca head into the international break on fine form and up next is the Clasico clash at the Santiago Bernabeu on November 21.
Messi and Ronaldo usually top the billing when it comes to meetings between Barca and Real, but the Argentine may not be back for this one and the prolific Portuguese is being matched in front of goal by the Catalans’ other two forwards.
So the latest edition of the famous fixture could be as much about Neymar and Suarez as it is about Messi and Ronaldo – and the game’s two greatest players from recent years may even find themselves eclipsed in the scoring charts this term if the Brazilian and the Uruguayan can continue their current form.