Has Neymar Eclipsed Messi at Barcelona?


In some circles the mere suggestion that Neymar has eclipsed Lionel Messi at Barcelona is blasphemy. If you’re familiar with this site though, you know we aren’t afraid to be heretics. I think there’s a solid argument to be made that Neymar has been the more influential of the two this season at Camp Nou.

I am not making the argument that Neymar is a better player than Messi. The diminutive Argentinian is the best player in the world today and I don’t think it’s that close. What I am saying is that Neymar is having the better start to their season. Even when you make adjustments for Messi’s absence due to injury the flamboyant Brazilian forward has the slight edge.

We are quibbling over small differences here, but that’s what makes for fun sports debates. Both players have been really good in La Liga and would walk in to any side in the world. With that being said, there’s a wide gap between the world-wide perceptions of both players.

There’s little debate that both are top five players in the world and most would say top three. However, you never really see much chatter about Neymar potentially being a better player than his teammate Messi. The debate rages on between Ronaldo and Messi, but the younger Neymar is usually left out.

Part of his absence can be explained by his youth. At just 23-years-old, Neymar doesn’t have the body of work in either club or international football that Messi and Ronaldo have. The fact that he is teammates with Messi also leads to his exclusion from the debate. Barcelona fans are quick to take up the torch for Messi, but haven’t latched on to Neymar in the same way. There’s not room for the fan base to fully support two players as the best in the world so there’s been a subconscious decision to back Messi. I can’t blame Barcelona fans for this, it’s what they are used to doing.

What I can do is point out that based on this year’s results, Neymar has every right to be mentioned in the same breadth as Messi. The differences between the two stars’ play has been small, but they are there. Whoscored.com ratings give the ever-so-slight edge to Neymar with a rating of 8.5 compared to Messi’s 8.44. Looking deeper into the statistics widens Neymar’s lead.

Common perception is that Neymar is the finisher while Messi is the maestro for Barcelona. The statistics through this season don’t back that up. He actually averages over one more key pass per game and predictably, is fouled more often. Somewhat surprisingly, Messi shoots and dribbles more than Neymar. These statistical differences really don’t fit the narrative we have about both players in our minds.

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We think of Messi as the consummate creator; the engine behind the Barcelona attack. In contrast, we perceive Neymar to be the daring dribbler who hunts for his own goals at all times. The statistics just don’t back this up. Yes, Neymar scores more goals but he also creates more for his teammates. This isn’t to say that Messi isn’t supremely creative. We know he is. It’s just to say that Neymar has been more creative on the young season.

When you add his statistical advantage in terms of creativity to his superior goal tally you can’t help but see Neymar has been just a bit better than his talented teammate. I know that doesn’t fit with the worldwide conversation about the two players, but it’s the truth.

As I said in the piece’s open, I still believe Messi is the better of the two players. In all likelihood, he will finish the year with better statistics than Neymar and this debate will be rendered moot. The point here is that the difference between Neymar and Messi’s impact at Barcelona is much smaller than we’re led to believe. It may not be long at all before Neymar is thought of as the best player at Barcelona and the world.