By Tim Hanlon
REUTERS – Barcelona forward Neymar again showed he is capable of providing leadership and impetus in the absence of Lionel Messi during their Champions League victory over BATE Borisov.
With Messi missing for two months with a knee injury the responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of Neymar to drive Barca from the front and he has risen to the occasion.
Last Saturday he hit four goals in the Catalan side’s demolition of Rayo Vallecano in La Liga and then on Tuesday he provided both assists for Ivan Rakitic’s double in the 2-0 victory over BATE.
“I think it is the case that Neymar has taken up a roll where he participates more in the build up of play with Messi not there,” Barca defender Marc Bartra told reporters.
“He is playing well and with the quality that we have in attack it is important that players like he and Suarez keep scoring the goals for us.”
In contrast to Uruguayan Luis Suarez, who has had a quiet start to the season by his own high standards, Neymar is showing that he has a lot more to his game than just goals and fancy footwork.
He is able to pick the ball up in deeper areas of the pitch and provide the vision which Barca need with Messi and Andres Iniesta in the treatment room.
Still Barca are not showing the same lethal finishing as last season when their three forwards hit 122 goals between them on the way to winning the treble.
They now have a comfortable three point lead in Champions League Group E and are joint top of La Liga but the first half against BATE was another example where they struggled to finish off the chances they made.
“Neymar is a great player but Leo is incomparable and there is no way you can replace him,” Javier Mascherano told reporters.
“Neymar and Suarez are among the best players in the world, they needed to step up and fill the gap which is what is happening but it is also the responsibility of the rest of the team.
“We are not at top level in front of goal and we are aware of that the team can do more but with work we will get there.”
(Reporting by Tim Hanlon in Barcelona, editing by Patrick Johnston)