Neymar’s mega-money move to Paris St. Germain has raised eyebrows across the globe. Every few weeks one of our correspondents will provide a few stray thoughts on his performance and the broader performance of PSG. After weeks of fanfare, today he made his full debut for the club, leading PSG to a 3-0 rout over Guingamp. He marked his debut with a goal and an assist.
Neymar returns to his roots. For football fans whose main exposure to Neymar has been his play at Barcelona, the Brazilian playing for Paris St. Germain will look like a slightly different player. Rather than remaining out close to the touch line to finish off Messi’s devastating through balls or dazzle fans with a 1v1 dribble against a right back, Neymar spent most of his time during his debut in a central position, pulling the attacking strings for PSG. Neymar has always played as a left-winger but in sides where he is particularly influential – Santos and Brazil – he has been given license to move centrally and act as a creative midfielder. Being handed this role by one of Europe’s top sides would’ve been a major factor in his decision to leave Barcelona, and his pass to Cavani for the Parisians’ second goal indicates his quality playing through the middle.
Neymar’s passing is one of his most underrated qualities. Both his quick flicks and his long through balls are a nightmare to defend, and his ability to provide endless chances for his teammates separates him as a star. At Barcelona, these skills were largely put on the shelf as they already had one of the game’s greatest ever creators acting as a playmaker. With PSG, Neymar has been given the keys, and though their competition was relatively week (Guingamp finished 10th in last year’s Ligue 1), the first match provides a real omen for what Europe can expect as Neymar is given free reign to create.
PSG’s Front Three will contend for best in Europe. While Real Madrid’s attacking three is still likely Europe’s best (even with Bale injured, Ronaldo-Benzema-Isco is likely the most frightening attacking lineup on the continent), PSG’s South American trio of Cavani-Neymar-Di Maria will push them for the crown this season. Each of PSG’s front-three are individual stars, with both Neymar and Di Maria already having man-of-the-match performances in a Champions League final under their belts and Cavani having several golden boot trophies to his name. But what will likely separate them is their fluidity and cohesion.
Both Neymar and Di Maria have the ability to play quick passes inside and to beat defenders to the byline, and Cavani’s ability to score without seeing a ton of the football will allow his two counterparts to do much of the dictating in the attacking third. All three can and will score a heap of goals this campaign, and much of their success will depend on their ability to stay healthy. Even PSG’s bench options are attractive, with Lucas Moura, Draxler, and Pastore having the potential to join a match in the second half and make a massive difference for the side.
It will be some time before we see a front-three as good as Messi-Suarez-Neymar, simply because it will be a long time before three of Europe’s five best attacking players join the same squad. This combination of Neymar, Cavani, and Di Maria, however, may offer each respective player the chance to play in their most natural position, which poses a massive challenge to defenders across not only France, but Europe as well.
Dani Alves is a massive signing for PSG. Despite their vast riches, right back has been a bogey position for PSG for a number of years. The signing of Dani Alves is massive in how it plugs up an obvious hole for the side, and offers a player with a history of winning at the highest level. Alves had an assist in his first match on a sumptuous cross to Cavani, and in his second match offered a consistent outlet on the right side. His defending has come a long way over the course of his career, and he coupled a strong attacking performance with a few well-timed tackles to break up Guingamp attacks.
Despite his old age, Alves remains one of Europe’s best, most consistent fullbacks. His trophy cabinet is well stocked after playing for Barcelona’s glory teams for eight seasons, and it’s difficult to fully appreciate the Brazilian’s contributions to the fullback position over the course of his career. He is a bonafide winner, and a locker room leader. PSG will face a tremendous amount of pressure this season having come so close to knocking off Barcelona last campaign (and choking it away) as well as having signed one of the football’s best players. While PSG have had a tremendous amount of domestic success since the infusion of oil money, European success has largely eluded them, and many pundits blame weak personalities for their loss to Barcelona last year, and Manchester City the year before.
Alves is in a unique position to help solve the leadership gap, particularly given his strong relationship (and countryman status) with current club captain Thiago Silva and new club superstar Neymar. Alves has spent the better part of a decade playing on teams with enormous pressure to perform on an annual, monthly, weekly basis. His experience and mentality could prove vital in PSG’s search for European glory.
Neymar seeks to dazzle. It’s no secret that Neymar loves the cameras, and he will have to continue loving them if he seeks to make a name for himself at PSG. An overwhelming amount of press attended his debut match, and each time he touched the ball he seemed intent on making it worth their while. With a number of flicks and tricks, he was keen to dazzle. The desire of Neymar to further his personal brand cannot be understated as a reason he would have chosen to pack up and move to Paris, and PSG’s desire to move into the “mega-club category” couples very nicely with the Brazilian’s ambition.
For now, Neymar to PSG seems a match made in heaven. It’s long season, however, and PSG know that while the domestic title is likely in their hands (though it should be stated Monaco are the reigning champions and are keep to push PSG again), they have a tall mountain to climb in Europe. It will take more than beautiful flicks and Instagram-ready pre-match pictures to get them to the top. But watching his debut compilation for the fourth time, I find myself convinced that maybe this Brazilian is the guy to get them there.