Neymar is not due back in Barcelona before the second week of September and that should be a cause for concern for the new Olympic champion.
Barcelona’s wide attacker will be allowed to return to his club after the completion of the 29th August - 6th September international break which would mean the Brazil ace will miss the league clash against Athletic Bilbao next weekend.
Having led his country to its first ever Olympic gold medal in the just concluded Rio games, Neymar has missed Barça’s entire pre-season as well as the season’s opening few fixtures. And it doesn’t seem like he will return any time soon. But this could mean he will have a tough time earning his place in the starting XI back.
Luis Enrique’s side opened the new season with a 6-2 hammering of Gus Poyet’s Real Betis, a game where the absence of Neymar wasn’t too keenly felt. This was because Arda Turan filled in to great effect to complement Barca’s incomplete MSN, without Neymar’s ‘N’.
The much-maligned Arda joined the squad in early pre-season and his sharpness showed on Saturday, scoring one goal and assisting another. Arda linked up well with Luis Suárez and Leo Messi; his combinations with them were like clockwork: passing and moving inside and around the penalty area reminding the Andalusians of Betis of the gulf in class that exists between them and Barça.
Dropping Arda for an off-sync Neymar when he returns doesn’t seem wise as the Turkish international has found his feet; nevertheless Luis Enrique now has a good puzzle to solve.
The manager even has the comfort of slowly integrating Neymar while Arda continues to flourish which could result in the Brazilian getting back to his peak condition for the second half of the season.
As if the Neymar conundrum wasn’t enough, the new signings, like Turan, have also excelled when given a chance. Denis Suárez has been involved heavily since the start of pre-season; the ex-Villarreal winger has demonstrated his capacity to play in the Barça system, and has proved to be an alternative to play in the interior left channel in the absence of Andrés Iniesta.
What was even more important was the synergy between Arda and Suárez on the left. Both players operated from virtually the same area of the pitch, and their understanding of each other’s movement and positioning provides Barca with adequate cover for Iniesta-Neymar when the need arises.
Likewise, Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne were also handed their Liga debuts against Betis and they made instant impressions. While Umtiti is expected to pose a threat to Javier Mascherano for a starting berth alongside Gerard Piqué at the heart of defence, Digne’s outing in the final quarter hour did him no harm. The French full-back is another whose first impressions will have been noted by Luis Enrique as competition for the virtually undroppable Jordi Alba increases.
A fresh set of problems has cropped up for the Asturian manager with Barça’s new summer arrivals producing the goods at the earliest available opportunity -- an absolute blessing that makes the Catalans' squad even more competitive than in previous seasons.
There is no doubt about Neymar’s place in the Barça XI, but he’ll be kept on his toes and there will now be lesser room for slacking off -- a warning which also applies to the rest of the squad.
From relying on a core group of first team players who were often stretched during parts of last season, Barça have evolved into a more rounded team with plenty of alternatives all across the pitch with newer dynamic brought in by the new signings as well as Turan.