In a game that Real Madrid dominated for long periods, it took a moment of stardust from Luis Suarez for Barcelona to gain the edge. With the score tied at 1-1 in the 56th minute, the Uruguayan used one touch to control a long ball in from Dani Alves and another to side-foot it just beyond the reach of the sprawling Iker Casillas into the far corner. It was a moment of brilliance worthy of the grandiosity of the El Clasico. Jeremy Mathieu had scored the opener for Barcelona, heading in an exquisite set-piece delivery from Lionel Messi in the 19th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo equalized on the half-hour mark, firing home from close range after receiving a cheeky back-heeled pass from Karim Benzema. Still, it was Suarez’s night, with the Uruguayan looking the best striker in the game on either team.
While the Uruguayan stood out for his brilliance, his teammate Neymar stood out for other reasons. With Messi marked to a somewhat peripheral role, the Brazilian rampaged down the wing. As usual, he proved a handful on the dribble, tormenting Bale and Daniel Caravajal with his mazy runs and sudden changes of direction and pace. But as has so often been the case, Neymar had no end product against Real Madrid: No goals, no assists, no truly telling passes.
Every player has off days, but Neymar has continually shown that while he’s developed his skills to a high level, he needs to improve his decision-making. Against Real, he wasted two or more golden opportunities to score with wild shots that went either wide of target or straight at Casillas.
It’s frustrating from a player who obviously has talent. But with his second season at the Camp Nou nearing its conclusion, it’s time for the 23-year-old to start making headlines for his performances on the pitch and not for the outfit he wore to the stadium. With 17 goals and four assists in the league, it’s not even fair to say that Neymar is having a bad season. But finishing big chances in big games like the El Clasico is what big players do. Suarez showed us that he is indeed such a player, one capable of making his moment on the grand stage. Coming from a long ball over the top, his goal was not typical Barça. But it was an instant classic and one to cherish for a player who really seems to be hitting his stride in a Blaugrana jersey at the moment.
Neymar needs to pull a similar moment out of his formidable bag of tricks. With a Champions League quarterfinal clash with PSG looming, he could have his chance soon. Let’s hope that he takes it. Otherwise there may remain a sneaking suspicion that despite all Neymar’s graft and guile on the ball, he’s a bit of a show pony with no real end product.