Much of the discussion surrounding Barcelona’s attack in the build up to the first Clasico of the campaign has focused on Luis Suarez’s potential impact, but there is a rather more subtle shift in dynamic occurring at the Camp Nou that has little to do with the Uruguayan.
It has to do instead with the division of goalscoring duties, in which Lionel Messi – evens to score against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu tonight – has for so long blazed a trail no teammate could live with at the head of the hit parade.
The four-time Ballon d’Or-winning magician has bagged nine goals in 11 appearances this season, a relatively moderate return by his own ridiculous standards.
Barca have placed a greater emphasis on defence under Luis Enrique, keeping eight straight clean sheets in La Liga, but they still net at a rate of well over two a game.
Instead the growing and changing harmony of Messi’s relationship with Neymar is behind the man from Rosario’s more staid output this term.
The word ‘telepathic’ has been wheeled out on more than one occasion to describe the understanding the pair have developed and it’s the latter who has been the chief beneficiary in terms of goals bonuses.
Neymar has outscored Messi by ten strikes to nine in 2014/15.
Do not adjust your set, you’ve read that correctly, Neymar is outscoring Messi.
Yet the former Santos star is longer in the betting to notch in Madrid than his strike partner at 7/5.
It seems that the Brazilian is far better at scoring from Messi assists than serving up delicacies for his benefactor.
Messi is already well on the way to his 2013/14 La Liga assist total (11) after just eight games, laying on seven goals (nine if the Champions League is included).
By contrast the more recent arrival in Catalunya has provided only one scoring pass for a teammate all season across the two competitions.
Real Madrid host the first Clasico of the campaign and Carlo Ancelotti’s men are 7/5 favourites for victory, with a Barcelona win priced up at 19/10 and the draw the outsider at 13/5.