Man Utd may not like his bark, but now they know the power of Neymar’s bite
Every time that Neymar comes up against a British side in the Champions League, you know what you’re going to get.
Claims he’s the most overrated player in football, your dad shouting at the telly for him to get up, mass quantities of boiled piss in general. But there will invariably be genuine brilliance too.
PSG’s 3-1 win away at Manchester United was no exception. Thomas Tuchel’s side weren’t always especially convincing or on top, even after Fred was sent off, but they had the star quality to make the difference in the final third.
Alongside his headline-grabbing two goals, Neymar registered 70 touches of the ball. That’s a lot for an attacker, not least one visiting Old Trafford. Harry Maguire, with 71, was the only United player to manage more, while Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford registered 74 combined.
Neymar also registered five dribbles – naturally, the most of any player on the pitch – and four key passes, as many as the rest of PSG’s starting XI combined.
It takes something special to stand out on a pitch whereby, over the course of the night, the players involved collectively cost in the region of a billion pounds. But that’s what the highest fee of all, €222million, buys you. Neymar put on a one-man show at times.
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There was, of course, the other side to his game. Scott McTominay couldn’t help but laugh in his post-match interview when asked if PSG’s players go down too easy before a haughty declaration of: “It’s not football.”
The Scotland midfielder had a tete-a-tete with the PSG star on more than one occasion, while Neymar himself could be seen needling Fred after his compatriot got away with a yellow for his coming together with Leandro Paredes.
In the words of Aldershot-born, Brazil-based football journalist Tim Vickery on a recent episode of 5Live’s World Football Phone-In: “If moralistic hypocrisy was an Olympic sport, England would have the gold medal every four years.”
Because for all the perceived play-acting and antagonism, Neymar is pure football when he has the ball at his feet.
Just look at his opening goal. Pressed by United’s sturdy double of McTominay and Fred, he has the speed of thought and technical ability to receive the ball on the turn and dispatch it between them into the path of Kylian Mbappe.
Then he’s away as his team-mate darts toward the penalty area, alert enough to pounce on the deflected shot and emphatically slot home past David de Gea.
That was only a precursor for what was to come. Neymar really started having fun in the final 20 minutes, when the game was stretched as a tired 10-man United went forward in search of an equaliser and gaps started to appear.
In the build-up to his second, Neymar receives the ball in the right-back area before turning away from Alex Telles, leaving Bruno Fernandes for dead and skipping past a challenge from Harry Maguire to surge forward into oceans of space.
That moment of inspiration is the trigger for his team-mates to go piling forward in support. A cross-field ball is played out to Mbappe, who carries the ball further before playing in Rafinha, who has every right to shoot himself.
PSG wrap up the win against Man Utd with a lightning counter-attack started and finished by Neymar 🔥
Incredible dribbling to make the space! pic.twitter.com/FiSsosXFmF
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) December 2, 2020
But he sees Neymar arriving in the six-yard box, just stopping short.
Maguire has already been put on his arse earlier in the move and has done well to recover and get back to cover him, but he’s left stranded by a canny bit of movement and can only sit on the touchline as Neymar buries it past him.
That’s not football? Sorry, Scott, we’re going to have to respectfully disagree.