The invitation to take part in the Juan Gamper trophy no doubt sweetened the deal to bring the pin-up boy of Brazilian football to the Camp Nou. A deal that has been in the making since 2010 when Sandro Rosell succeeded Joan Laporta as Barcelona president. The former Nike exec finally got his man and Neymar will line up alongside Messi, Xavi and Iniesta in the famous maroon and blue jersey.
An 8-0 score line tells you everything you need to know about how Barcelona treated its South American guests. Tata Martino’s side were in a rampant mood. Messi was at his mesmerizing best, Busquets elegant at the heart of the midfield and Victor Valdes didn’t have to touch the ball such was Barca’s dominance. The pressing, intricate passing game that has served Barcelona so well under Pep and then Tito was simply too much for a Santos side clearly overwhelmed by the occasion.
This was all before Neymar even stepped out onto the pitch for his first game in front of the home supporters. It was even before the crossbar denied Cesc Fabregas a hat-trick the Manchester United target deserved in a game that showed why he might not be leaving Catalonia anytime soon.
The signing of Neymar means this Barcelona side is now blessed with a trio of South American number tens. It’s easy to forget about Alexis Sanchez when you have the best player in the world playing in your side. The 24-year old is approaching his third season since the club paid 26 million Euros to lure him away from Udinese. Like Ibrahimovic and David Villa though, Sanchez has found it difficult to adjust to a side with such strong La Masia roots. Blessed with exceptional pace, the stocky forward’s work-rate has never been in question. His goal return, decision-making and ability to fit into Barcelona’s tiki-taka system have been much greater concerns.
During Barcelona’s build-up to the new season a new Sanchez has emerged. One who appears to display a greater understanding of his talented teammates around him. The Chilean number 10 has sent out a clear message that any new additions to the squad will have a fight on their hands to be in that starting eleven for the season opener against Levante on August 18th.
Playing wide left of an attacking front three that included Messi and Pedro, Sanchez kept the young Santos full back Rafael Galhardo busy throughout the first half with his directness and intelligent link up play. Drifting inside and freeing up space for the Argentine to exploit, Sanchez’s combination of pace and trickery made him virtually unplayable at times.
Involved in three of the eight goals, Sanchez coolly slotted away the ball for Barca’s third after hounding down the Santos defence with Messi. For Barca’s fourth, Sanchez slipped in the overlapping Jordi Alba whose low cross was tapped in by Pedro. There’s was a hint of good fortune about his contribution to Barca’s fifth but his eagerness paid off leaving Fabregas to lash in the fifth goal of the night.
Sanchez finished the night out on the right allowing Neymar to play in his more preferred position out on the left. The Brazilian showed the flashes of brilliance to encourage the watching Socios and Cules of what they can expect in the coming season. The new-found maturity in his game beautifully summed up by the sumptuous pass to pick out Fabregas for the Spaniard’s second goal of the game.
The thought of Messi, Neymar and Sanchez in the same forward line is enough to tantalize the footballing taste buds. For the rest of La Liga and Barcelona’s prospective Champions League opponents it’s the stuff of nightmares. Whether Tata Martino will trust all three to play together is still up for debate. Leaving a 57 million Euros player on the bench sounds like an unthinkable scenario but if Sanchez continues to impress, the new Barcelona number one will have the kind of selection headache most managers would dearly love to have.