By Tim Hanlon
REUTERS – With sublime control, a back heel flick, a pirouette and a sweet volleyed finish, Neymar fashioned a glorious goal at the Nou Camp on Sunday to rekindle memories of Barcelona’s greatest Brazilian wizards.
Neymar’s second goal in the 3-0 win over Villarreal took the breath away, particularly echoing the heyday of Ronaldinho, the last Brazilian to turn the grand stadium into his own personal art gallery.
He had already scored once and Barca were cruising at 2-0 when, with five minutes left, Neymar, no stranger to scoring splendid solo goals, produced the masterpiece which left the crowd wondering if it might even have eclipsed some of their absent hero Lionel Messi’s finest works.
Cushioning the ball on his chest, Neymar flicked the ball with the back of his heel insolently over the top of his head, befuddling the unfortunate defender Jaume Costa while simultaneously spinning to strike his volley into the net. Pure genius.
In the absence of the injured Messi, the responsibility has fallen on Neymar to provide creativity and leadership and here was the perfect illustration of how he is relishing the role.
Sunday’s double makes him La Liga’s top scorer with 11 goals and left his manager Luis Enrique purring about the pleasure of watching a “special” player.
“I had the fortune to play alongside Ronaldinho and we would stand and watch him practice with the ball. With Neymar it is in some ways similar, they are special players,” Luis Enrique told a news conference.
“His goal stood out but also his style of play, the way he works for the teams and helps out defensively.”
Always with a toothy smile on his face, the charismatic Ronaldinho inspired Barca to two La Liga titles and the 2006 Champions League before he lost his way.
The Neymar-inspired Barca now lead the La Liga table by three points after Real Madrid’s defeat away to Sevilla and the two bitter rivals go head-to-head in their next game following the international break.
Luis Enrique gave no clues though as to whether he expects Messi to have recovered from his knee injury for the match.
“He is in the process of recovering and we will see,” he said.
“The only thing that we have been concerned about since he got injured was that he recovers well. We are infinitely stronger with Messi.”
(Editing by Ian Chadband and Pritha Sarkar)