While the Neymar-saga has taken some expected turns, Barcelona have to live with the fact that they are now behind Real Madrid in the La Liga table, after more than a year. Their losses against Real Sociedad and Valladolid can prove to be the turning point in the club’s quest for the second La Liga title in as many years. With 30 points still to play for, Barcelona still can give Real Madrid a run for their money, but they must remember that Real Madrid, who are currently at the top have 70 points in 28 games, have touched the 100-point barrier once recently (2011-12 season) and can do so again – while Barcelona, even if they win all their remaining games, cannot.
While the top two in Spain jostle and fight their own battle for pride and superiority, Atletico Madrid, led by Diego Simeone, have fought their way to the summit. Perhaps for the first time in many years, La Liga has seen three different teams, who are genuine title contenders, at the top at some point of time in the season – Barcelona (23 gameweeks), Real Madrid (4 gameweeks), Atletico Madrid (1 gameweek).
Real Madrid, under Carlo Ancelotti, have been away from controversy that Jose Mourinho usually invited. No snide remarks, no ego clashes, no falling out with stars – they look more of a cohesive unit in just a few months than they were under Mourinho throughout the latter’s tenure. While the spotlight has shifted on to Neymar because of the embezzlement, Gareth Bale, yet another high profile signing, has silently slotted into Carlo’s Real, after the initial hiccup.
After 28 gameweeks, the two rising stars have somewhat given the football universe a glimpse of what the future holds. While it’d be unfair not to applaud Neymar for his initial form and transition, of late he seems to have lost his focus and so much so that Tata Martino had to leave him on the bench against Osasuna. Neymar was booed by a certain section of fans, against Manchester City – while that is certainly not called for but it does give a picture of how drastically he has fallen from the heights that he has already set for himself. However, it must be kept in mind that against City, Neymar played on the right, which isn’t his usual position.
“Neymar has played at his best as a left-winger or centre-forward but a player of his quality can play on the right, that’s not a problem.
He moved to the right against Manchester City and was involved in the second goal. I’ve talked to him about this, he is a player who has no problem at all adapting to the three positions across the front line.
But when a player has been injured for a month, it does take time for him to get back to his best. He is an excellent player but it takes time to get back into the swing of things,” said Martino.
In the match against Osasuna, Martino sent out Neymar to warm-up and then chose to field Tello instead. While the reason behind this may not be clear, but the match would have been ideal for the young Brazilian to gain some much needed confidence against the drooping shoulders of Osasuna.
It is understandable that Neymar has hid a rough patch, especially when his family was dragged into the controversy of money embezzlement. Social media did its part vindicate the situation further. And while during the initial part of the season, the focus was more on Bale, thanks to his humongous transfer fee, it quietly left him and rested entirely on Neymar, giving the former Spurs’ winger a chance to cope with the pressure and finally get to showcase his array of talents.
Gareth Bale has had a slow start to his Madrid career. And as the tortoise once proved, the young Welshman might go all the way to prove the veracity of the maxim. In the last Clasico, Bale struggled and Neymar stole the show.
Life is a great leveller and this time around, it is the young Brazilian who is quietly slipping into oblivion and the former Spurs’ winger is running riot against defences. However, a careful assessment of Bale has shown that the record signing has had some issues when playing against big names.
While Neymar has been brazenly brilliant against some top notch oppositions, he has been pretty pedestrian against a few others. Bale, however has maintained a consistency and has performed at an optimal level. He has been fairly consistent and might just be hitting top gear in the business end of the season. Neymar, however will have to deal with the element of inconsistency and in the circumstances that he is living right now, it looks a tad too difficult.
“I didn’t expect Gareth Bale to settle in so well.
I think it makes it easy for him with this team because he is surrounded by good players; I think they accepted him as a player and that’s a lot easier with the amount of money he cost them.
It took him a while and I heard he got some stick because he’s injured a lot of the time, but I think that with all these good players he can be better than he was than with Tottenham,” Ruud Gullit told Sky Sports after Real Madrid thrashed Schalke by a margin of 6-1
Bale has had torrid times and right from the onset he had to deal with the pressure of a huge transfer fee. Neymar has just been in the opposite sphere. But the tables have turned now, and while Bale has come to terms with the level of pressure, Neymar has come more under scrutiny and the limelight now focuses entirely on him. Even a drop of a hat may be blown out of proportion by the media and it is not impossible that a bright young talent will lose it – like many talented Brazilians have done in the past.
For a long time El Clasico was billed to be a face-off between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. These two are supreme athletes and have won the last four FIFA Ballon d’Or awards in as many years. They have scored impossible goals and impossible number of goals too. But now both of them have a teammate who needs to be nurtured and mentored. After a long time, El Clasico will not just be about Leo and Cristiano – it will also be about Neymar and Bale. And while score stood at 1-0 in favour of Neymar after the last Clasico. It should be 1-1 should Martino choose not to start the Brazilian.
Neymar is at a cusp and perhaps so is Bale. The Clasico will decide the fates of both the clubs this season and so will it for the two rising stars.
Real Madrid vs Barcelona will also be Bale vs Neymar and not just Cristiano vs Messi. What happens next? Your guess is as good as ours. But for now, it’s ‘Advantage Bale’.