An Analysis of Neymar in Big Games

Neymar helped Barcelona win the Champions League in 2015 | Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

There was once a time when Neymar was talked up as the third prong of the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly. He was the savvy Brazilian poised to crash the party before it got going, arriving on the scene in La Liga ready to finally give football’s two big goalscorers a run for their money.

It hasn’t quite played out that way.

A world record move to Paris Saint-Germain, designed to distinguish him from Messi and Luis Suarez, has yielded Ligue 1 title after Ligue 1 title, but his inability to get the big one over the line in his new colours has meant that his career has stagnated somewhat, rather than accelerated.

2020 might be the year that that all changes. A Neymar-inspired PSG will take on Bayern Munich in Lisbon on Sunday looking to finally realise the dreams of Thomas Tuchel and the club’s morally ambiguous owners while putting himself back into the conversation as one of the very best around.

To try and predict how Neymar and Paris might get on when confronted with the biggest stage in football, we’ve taken a look back at the Brazilian’s performances in the big finals of his career so far. His he a big-game player or a perennial bottler? Well…

Neymar slots in the opener | Luis Vera/Getty Images

Our tail of triumph and heartbreak starts in a time before Brexit, Trump and COVID. A time when things were simpler, a time before Pep Guardiola had left Barcelona to rot.

It was a time before Neymar was the media pantomime villain he is today, a time when his most widely recognised accomplishment was two goals in a friendly against Scotland.

Just 19 years old, he squeezed one into the bottom corner against Penarol, setting Santos on their way to win their first Copa Libertadores in almost 50 years, and those who hadn’t already taken notice did so there and then.

It was a fine end to his penultimate season in Brazil, and, in hindsight, a real sign of what lay ahead.

Big Game Player Rating: 7/10

Lionel Messi, Neymar
Neymar consoles team-mate Lionel Messi after a heartbreaking defeat | Denis Doyle/Getty Images

TARDIS it forward to 2014 now, by which point Neymar had become the second most expensive player of all-time and started off his debut season in Spain with a bang.

He went into the final of Copa del Rey looking to end the season on a high, but along with the rest of his team-mates, he was a bit of a no-show.

El Clasico defeats always hurt; El Clasico defeats in cup finals hurt even more.

Big Game Player Rating: 3/10

It was a happier ending for Neymar and Messi this time around | JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images

If 2013/14 was the year Neymar got his foot in the door at Catalonia, then 2014/15 was the season he loudly, ostentatiously announced himself to the room.

The penultimate of his 39 (thirty-nine) goals doubled Barcelona’s lead on their way to a 3-1 victory over Athletic Club, and as part of the feared MSN trio with Messi and Suarez, he ran the show.

Big Game Player Rating: 7/10

The 2015 Champions League final was the pinnacle of Neymar’s career | JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images

Those of you paying attention will notice I said that was his penultimate goal of the 2014/15 season. That’s because there was one more to come.

Deep, deep into stoppage time against Juventus in the Champions League final, Neymar got his head onto a Jordi Alba cross to make sure of the first – and, to date, only – European title of his career.

It was his 54th goal for the club. In his second season.

Big Game Player Rating: 8/10

Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, Neymar Jr, Eneko Boveda Altube
By now Neymar was really making his name in Spain | Power Sport Images/Getty Images

Having won an historic treble with Barca the season prior, Neymar, Messi and co had designs on repeating the feat, but it wouldn’t quite work out that way…in Europe, at least.

Domestically, they were still well in charge, and completed a league and cup double when their Brazilian sensation once again came up with a late goal.

Sevilla got the brunt of it this time when an Alba-Neymar one-two punch in extra-time secured a 2-0 victory for Luis Enrique’s team.

Big Game Player Rating: 7/10

Neymar da Silva Santos Junior
A vintage display helped Barcelona conquer Alaves | Power Sport Images/Getty Images

2016/17 was a slower than normal season by Neymar’s stratospheric standards.

He netted just the 20 goals in all competitions, but as was becoming the norm, one of those came in the final of Copa del Rey.

He scored one and set up another for Lionel Messi as Barca stumbled past Alaves to win the trophy for a third straight year. Copa del Rey: or, ‘The Neymar Cup’.

Big Game Player Rating: 9/10

Neymar Jr
How Neymar only ended up with a runner’s up medal here defies all known logic and reason | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

At €200m, PSG really wanted a player who would win them trophies by himself. Well, Neymar tried that in his first Coupe De France final, but even a pretty magnificent individual performance couldn’t get his team over the line.

An assist for his Brazil team-mate Dani Alves followed by a goal of his own had PSG in full control of Rennes, but the underdogs came back, took the game to penalties, and eventually, famously, won the cup.

Neymar responded by trying with all his might to force a move back to Barcelona; seemingly, he hated it here.

Big Game Player Rating: 7/10

Yet another winner’s medal for Neymar | GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/Getty Images

If you hadn’t gathered by now, Neymar tends to show up for finals. Of the seven listed so far, he’s scored in six of them, and he made that 7/8 back in June.

Well, sort of.

Crediting him with the only goal of the game after Leandro Paredes’ effort deflected off him and crossed the line seems a little unfair, but he had no qualms in claiming it.

Otherwise, it was a fairly quiet game from the man who has made domestic cup finals his own, but we’ll let him off.

Big Game Player Rating: 5/10

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