The Brazilian striker cost roughly half of what Real Madrid spent on Gareth Bale in the summer but the difference on the pitch was staggering. Neymar opened the scoring and gave the Real defence a horrid evening at the Nou Camp during Barca’s 2-1 win whilst Bale was subbed late on after making a minimal impact.
The two have endured contrasting periods since signing for their clubs with Bale yet to properly settle in in Madrid. Bale’s battle with injury has been well documented as he awaits his first chance to play for Los Blancos as a fully fit member of the squad – a squad he has yet to fully gel with. It showed too; Bale was isolated and ineffectual as Madrid suffered without the ball. The Welshman tired of chasing the ball from Barca and was naïve in a high challenge with Gerard Pique, one that in Spain will unquestionably be a yellow card every time.
Criticism can be harsh in Spain, especially from the extravagant media but Bale is sensible enough to appreciate that he wasn’t all to blame. Few of his Madrid teammates had scintillating games required to win a Clasico in Barcelona. If anyone is to take the majority of the blame it must be Carlo Ancelotti, himself in his first Clasico too, for picking the wrong tactics throughout the game.
Ancelotti has struggled to deploy his favoured policy upon the Madrid squad this season but abandoned his philosophy last night. Isco was left out and Sergio Ramos deployed in defensive midfield with Sami Khedira hopelessly trying to regain possession. Angel di Maria and Ronaldo were used as wingers with Bale interchanging with Ronaldo when necessary. This sometimes meant Bale was used as the central striker when Ronaldo wanted the flank.
But the media will inevitably focus on Bale due to his price tag and the fact that Neymar shone. The Brazilian played superbly, overshadowing his colleagues and Ronaldo to make the Clasico his own.
Neymar scored the opener via a deflection, set up the second goal and troubled Daniel Carvajal throughout the game. However it could have been very different had Victor Valdes not been on top form. He made two stops to deny Madrid and prove his importance to the squad. A late howler was a black mark on an impressive evening for the man intent on becoming Spain’s number one for the World Cup. Another factor to swing in Neymar’s favour was a call by the referee to not award a penalty to Madrid for a shove on Ronaldo. The score was 1-0 at this point.
The 21-year-old Brazilian is a top talent and deserves to have scored more than just four this season but he has gradually been adapting to Barcelona’s philosophy and Gerard Martino’s style of play, culminating in the impressive display on Saturday. Furthermore, by playing in the Brazilian League and with the Brazil national team, Neymar is more familiar with the way football is played in Spain than Bale having come through the physical Premier League.
Although outstanding, Neymar was, on the balance of play, lucky to have been singled out considering the game could have swung on incidents involving Ronaldo and Valdes. He can also feel fortunate that he shone on a night when Messi didn’t. But it marked the first pivotal performance from Neymar, one Barcelona have been waiting for but one which was undoubtedly to come as he settled in at the Nou Camp. As for Bale, it is unfair for him to be compared to Neymar as he adapts to life in Madrid. He needs to learn the tactics, language and playing style of his teammates before emulating Barca’s star. Bale should look towards the next Clasico for his chance to prove his class to the world.