Lately, there’s hardly a summer without the now-traditional Neymar Junior transfer saga. And 2018/19 did not disappoint at all. Be that as it may, the Brazilian is nowadays only talked about in a context that often doesn’t have much to do with his footballing abilities, and that tells us enough about his recent ventures.
But still, regardless of the media and Neymar’s off the pitch adventures, this tactical analysis scout report will look at his on the pitch skillset and use analysis to uncover that almost forgotten brilliance that this exceptional player has in his arsenal.
Neymar Junior is a 27-year-old Brazilian forward that was widely regarded as a definite future Ballon d’Or winner by the majority of the footballing world. Renowned for his incredible technical ability and his footballing intelligence, Neymar took the stage by storm and cemented himself as a class above the most.
His dazzling dribbling abilities are matched by only a few, similarly to his creativeness and passing brilliance that enables him to create goals out of nothing and set his teammates up regularly. Neymar also possesses a dose of pure pace which gives him an edge in beating his marker(s).
His eye for goal should also not be overlooked as he is a lethal finisher which means he can often assume both the role of playmaker and a straight-up forward. Generally speaking, Neymar is a talent almost unmatched on the footballing pitch, hampered only by his mentality and a bad injury record.
Now we will dissect his key traits in more detail and give you his full scout report and tactics around which he revolves his game around.
One of Neymar’s biggest attributes is his ability to create space both for himself and for his teammates. Usually, he will use his movement to manipulate the opposition by directly attacking one area of the pitch, dragging his markers with him only to disperse all that pressure and send the ball towards a free teammate.
This is an extremely common trait since Neymar excels at taking on his markers in any kind of scenarios, regardless of the number of opposition players in front of him. Notice in the example below how that translates onto the pitch.
The Brazilian drops deeper to receive the ball and immediately attracts multiple markers on himself. Three opposition players try to collapse and put numbers around him in order to minimise the area he can operate in. But one “simple” flick suddenly frees him completely and Paris Saint-Germain can continue the build-up freely.
But notice how suddenly the opposition’s whole defensive line is very much clustered in one single area of the pitch and PSG have multiple channels open to advance through the pitch. Neymar has the ability to singlehandedly eliminate multiple players with a single move, pass or a dribble.
Similarly, in the example below, Neymar takes on his marker and upon beating him, the opposition’s backline starts putting more numbers on him, thus breaking their defensive structure and leaving free pockets of space behind them.
But as soon as that happens, Neymar can burst into that space before the defence can recuperate. After a quick one-two, the Brazilian is already inside the box, exploiting that newly created space and inevitably, a goal is scored.
This is matched by only a few other world-class players on the planet. Neymar attempted, on average, 13.62 dribbles per game in all competitions in 2018/19 with a success rate of 47.8%. That equals to around 6.5 completed dribbles per game. Even with a limited game time of only 1,443 minutes in Ligue 1 last season, he comes in third in dribbles completed per 90 minutes in France’s top-flight and 15th in the top five European leagues.
15th doesn’t sound very impressive but taken into account that Europe’s leader in dribbles per 90 minutes, Sofiane Boufal, who’s played over 2,000 minutes last season in La Liga, has only 2.32 dribbles more than the Brazilian, it becomes somewhat clearer. The same thing can be said when accounting for total dribbles in 2018/19, where Allan Saint-Maximin leads the line with 467 dribbles but in a total of 3,057 minutes played, almost three times Neymar’s tally.
And besides, Wyscout’s algorithm recognises attacking duels and dribbles as a 1v1 scenario while Neymar often takes on multiple defenders at once. The next image once again shows how Neymar can create space and progress the ball from a condensed area just with the use of his dribbling abilities.
In the above image, he receives the ball deep as is usually the case and then proceeds to rush the free space that the defenders leave behind their backs. Since they all decided to collapse on the player, not expecting him to be able to beat them all at once, the entrance to the final third remains unmarked.
Soon, Neymar dribbles past all of them and PSG turn an unpromising situation to a dangerous one within a couple of moments.
Last season, the Brazilian ranked ninth in ball progression by runs while in possession with 122.6 throughout 2018/19. Once again, he’s got a limited number of minutes but he’s still able to break into the top 10 nonetheless. It has to be noted, however, that some of the top names on the list have even played fewer minutes than Neymar but have absolutely smashed this section.
Still, the likes of Eden Hazard or Manuel Lazzari, who are eighth and seventh respectively, have accumulated over 3,000 minutes last season with only a couple of more runs completed.
By far Neymar’s best trait are his playmaking abilities. In this aspect, he is well above most players on the biggest footballing stage on the planet. His passing skills are what, in most parts, makes him such a deadly player to face.
In general, he doesn’t need much space nor time to unleash a spectacular pass to a teammate that’s seemingly out of sight and he also operates all across the opposition’s half, always on the move and always active on and off the ball.
Let’s first see how accurate and deadly Neymar’s passing actually is.
In 2018/19, Neymar managed “only” 81.9% passing accuracy but given how risky his passing usually is, this is actually a pretty high number. Just a quick glance at the distribution of his passes immediately tells us a better story: 20.33 forward passes (74.8% accuracy) on average per game and only 7.73 backpasses (90.1% accuracy).
Furthermore, we can see how dangerous he is when entering the final third and especially in and around the opposition’s box with 11.49 and 6.09 respectively.
On the pitch, Neymar will almost always assume a much deeper position than what the teamsheet might suggest at first. Whether he’s playing in that number 10 role in a 4-2-3-1 formation or as a left-winger in a 4-3-3 makes little difference.
The next two examples show his deeper positioning where he drops to receive or take over the ball and then progress via either a dribble/ progressive run or by allowing himself more space for a through ball.
Once he is in an ideal position, however, he will quickly pull the trigger and release a pinpoint pass towards his teammate, often times regardless of how difficult that might seem at first. In the next image, we can see Neymar doing exactly that.
After receiving the ball and positioning himself where he wants to be, he eliminates seven opposition players and breaks multiple lines with a single penetrating pass over the top and into the free pocket of space left by the other team.
An almost identical situation in the next example as well. Another thing to notice in those scenarios is the number of opposition players constantly marking him but they still get eliminated seemingly with ease.
Neymar attempted 5.03 through balls and 3.84 long passes in 2018/19 season with 37.3% and 49.6% accuracy respectively. Also, he averaged 2.5 key passes across all competitions.
In this aspect of through balls per 90 minutes, Neymar is only second to Lionel Messi in Europe’s top five leagues and eighth in total number of through balls sent. He also ranks third in total smart passes (102) and first in smart passes per 90 minutes (6.04).
This shows how creative he is in finding solutions to unlock dense defensive blocks and bypass high-pressing situations. Here are a couple of on-pitch examples of Neymar playing an unexpected pass or simply getting creative as he goes which is something he is probably the bets on the planet at.
Finally, a quick look at his heat and touch map will tell us about his preferred area of operation which is basically the whole opposition’s half. Neymar is absolutely everywhere on the pitch, always moving and always causing danger for the other team.
Here’s his 2019/19 heatmap and touches from two different games (vs Nice – orange and vs Angers – blue) for Paris Saint-Germain last season, both clearly showing his activity all over the pitch.
One final aspect of Neymar Junior’s excessive arsenal is definitely his finishing and final product contribution. The Brazilian is an expert in setting his teammates up with his excellent passing but he is no stranger to finishing those actions himself.
Last season, he tallied 11.9 xG and 7.78 xA respectively and managed to outperform the expected goals by scoring 15 and just trailed behind his expected assist with a total of seven. But when we take a look at his overall graph, we realise how complete of an attacker he truly is.
An extraordinary contribution to almost all aspects from fueling the build-up, scoring, assisting and providing key passes to his teammates. A similar situation when we take a look at his attempts at goal with their respective xG values.
We can see that he attempts a lot of shots but also often gets into fantastic chances that have a high probability of ending in a goal. What’s even more important is the fact that he, in general, rarely misses those opportunities.
Green circles represent goals, red missed shots, blue saved and purple blocked ones. The bigger the circle the higher the xG value (chance of a goal).
Last season, he averaged 3.75 shots on goal with 49.2% of those hitting the target.
Neymar Junior is without a shadow of a doubt a wonderful, wonderful player. On his day, when he’s motivated and fit, he’s completely and utterly unplayable and definitely a class above most other players on the planet bar Lionel Messi.
It’s a shame that his career took a hit after signing for Paris Saint-Germain but at 27, there is still time to get it together and regain that untouchable status of his in the world of football. The throne can still be his in the not so distant future. If he wants it, that is.
But can he remain calmed and collected in order to fulfil his destiny? Only time will tell and we can only hope so.
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