Neymar mastered physics in a second to cement his status as UCL assist king
In the years since Neymar made his Champions League debut back in 2013, no player has provided more assists in the competition.
As PSG reached the final for the first time in their history with a 3-0 victory over RB Leipzig, Neymar registered his 24th assist in the Champions League with an artful flick for Angel Di Maria to score his side’s second goal of the game. That’s at least four more than any other player in that time.
His tally in Europe’s elite knockout tournament now stands at a neat 59 combined goals and assists in 59 appearances.
Herein lies the paradox of Neymar: for all the perceptions of flash self-indulgence and toxic individualism, he is actually the ultimate team cheat code.
The Brazilian’s name has been notably absent from PSG’s list of goalscorers in their knockout victories over Atalanta and RB Leipzig, but it has not been for the want of trying. Across the two games, Neymar has had 10 shots, hitting the post twice.
Against Leipzig, he was left chuckling to himself after the woodwork denied him a brilliant free-kick that almost caught out goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi from out wide on the right.
Yet all his personal frustration has only increased his resolve to inspire the collective to drag the club further than they’ve ever gone before.
The 28-year-old’s assist allowed Marquinhos to bundle home a late equaliser against Atalanta before he had the presence of mind, and abundance of talent, to disguise a perfectly-weighted through ball for Kylian Mbappe in the build-up to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s dramatic winner.
Neymar’s pass to Mbappé is incredible in slow motion.
Everything about his body shape indicates to the defender that the ball will be played on the outside. Then while off balance he manages to slide it through the smallest of gaps, weighted perfectly. pic.twitter.com/QgdoAAZUOu
— AllThingsSeleção ™ (@SelecaoTalk) August 13, 2020
On Tuesday night, Neymar had already hit the post twice by the time RB Leipzig gave the ball away playing out from the back and a cross was fizzed into him standing near the edge of the box.
At first glance you could be forgiven for assuming Neymar had merely deflected the ball with a piece of miscontrol into the path of Di Maria, who finished ruthlessly to make the score 2-0.
But the replays then showed we’d witnessed something special: Neymar, facing in the opposition direction, had backheeled the ball into the ground so it bounced up perfectly for Di Maria to convert; a split-second calculation of the physics of time and space.
Such pieces of play demonstrate how we’ll never be able to truly understand the combination of science and artistry a world-class footballer innately computes in the time it takes to blink.
PSG are turning it 🔛
Angel Di Maria doubles their lead after capitalising on a goalkeeping error! 🎯
— Football on BT Sport #Club2020 (@btsportfootball) August 18, 2020
After their quarter-final victory over Atlanta, Neymar was presented with the Man of the Match award only to pass it on to his often mocked team-mate Choupo-Moting, while Di Maria picked up the award against Leipzig after ending the match with a goal and two assists.
It may not fit with the preconceptions of Neymar, but you suspect it may suit him down to the ground in 2020. The adulation can wait for now, the bigger prize is finally in his sights once more.