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Can Neymar become bigger than Messi at Barcelona?

Pitchside Europe

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The transfer saga which everybody had an opinion on over the close-season was undoubtedly Gareth Bale’s move to Real Madrid for the frankly ridiculous sum of around £86 million. It was impossible to escape from the constant waves of speculation.

The media in both Spain and England seemed to report new information almost every day, but by the end of the summer even they appeared to be a little sick of the whole story. If Hollywood wanted to monetise it themselves, Peter Jackson would probably get 25 films out of it.

And in the end, an earlier transfer that had originally threatened to go on forever was almost forgotten about.

Neymar’s move from Santos to Barcelona officially went through on July 1, meaning the reigning champions had more than enough time to get the Brazilian settled, fit and ready to go for the new season.

They may have spent around £50m on the 21-year-old, but few would begrudge them that, particularly Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winning captain Cafu.

He said: “Give him two years at Barcelona, then Neymar will surpass [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo.”

His Barcelona team-mate has won the Ballon d’Or for the past four years in a row, but could Neymar potentially be so good as to surpass him, as Cafu suggests?

In seven matches he may have only managed two goals to Messi’s eight from six appearances, but his overall productivity in the final third cannot be argued with.

The Brazilian has created 13 chances so far, equal with Messi and bettered only by Cesc Fabregas and Xavi in the Barcelona squad, while his record of five assists is the second best in the division.

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Barcelona Top Chance Creators This Season

Neymar’s record of winning 65% of his average duels and completing 85% of his passes is also better than Messi’s respective statistics, but once you dig beneath the surface the real picture reveals itself.

The Argentine may have won 6% less of his duels than Neymar, but his 57% take-on success edges out the newcomer (56%) having attempting 13 more, while Messi's passes are significantly more adventurous and risky.

Messi’s average pass accuracy is 1% less than Neymar, but more than half of them (50.4%) have been played forward, compared to 29.6% of the former Santos man’s. The world’s best player is generally looking to advance play, while his team-mate is more willing to slow the attack down. However, to Neymar's credit he has performed his left-wing role superbly. The young Brazilian has managed five assists in seven games, with a number of his chances created helping Messi to score.

It will also be of little surprise to realise that Messi is in a different league to the young pretender in front of goal, with his 78% shot accuracy dwarfing Neymar’s 60%, but it does not end there.

Messi also boasts an impressive 29.6% conversion rate, well over double Neymar’s 13.3%.

There can be no doubt that Neymar has a long way to go before reaching the heights of his fellow South American, but few would deny he will be one of the best in the world eventually.

The chances of him emulating Messi’s outrageous goalscoring records are unlikely, but given that he already looks so impressive at the age of 21, he will certainly be confident of becoming just as essential to the Barcelona juggernaut.

From Squawka.com - team and player football stats

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