Neymar's lacklustre performance vs. Liverpool reveals he isn't flourishing at PSG
LIVERPOOL, England -- For 82 minutes of Paris Saint-Germain's 3-2 Champions League defeat Tuesday against Liverpool at Anfield, the only word to describe Neymar's performance for the French team would have been "peripheral."
The £198 million world-record signing was always threatening to get involved, but he never quite managed it until, with eight minutes left to play, he capitalised on a misplaced pass by Mohamed Salah and sprinted toward the Liverpool penalty area before unselfishly laying the ball off for Kylian Mbappe, who clinically shot past goalkeeper Alisson Becker to make it 2-2.
It was the kind of moment you expect from a world-class player -- swift, decisive and with the opposition paying a price -- but the uncomfortable truth for the Brazilian forward is that it was his sole contribution to a stirring game.
For much of it, he ran into a red roadblock, usually in the shape of James Milner or Jordan Henderson, who were not overawed in the slightest by Neymar's superstar status. The 26-year-old floated around in the middle third of the pitch, usually held onto the ball too long and, when his teammates had possession, too often drifted off to the flank to occupy a position that would do little to worry Jurgen Klopp's players.
Neymar is a talent, there is no question about that, but it is not flourishing at PSG. He looks bored, disinterested.
His supporters will argue that he is prolific in Ligue 1 -- he has already scored four goals in four league games this season after hitting 19 in 20 last term -- but PSG broke the bank to sign him from Barcelona last year for his ability to make the difference on big nights in the Champions League. We're still waiting for that to happen.
This was, in truth, the first game of Group C, so PSG and Neymar have plenty of time to hit their stride and dominate not only the group, but the Champions League.
Neymar is good enough to do that, but PSG's defence suggests that the team will fall short once again, and perhaps therein lies the problem for the world's most expensive player: He knows that this team can go only so far, regardless of any heroics he might be able to muster in the attacking third of the pitch.
At Barcelona, Neymar knew that he was playing for a team that had the strength in every department to go all the way in the Champions League, as they did in 2015. But at PSG, he is just an expensive decoration.
The one saving grace for Neymar is that he has Mbappe alongside him to put the finishing touches on his brilliance, as the French teenager did with his late goal at Anfield.
The two of them are too good for PSG and Ligue 1, but while Mbappe is still developing and relishing the opportunity to perform at the highest level for the domestic champions, Neymar has already travelled down the road that his young teammate is only just embarking upon. Motivation is easy for Mbappe, but it is less so for Neymar, and the frustrations of playing for a PSG team that cannot compete against the best in Europe looks to be blunting his edge.
And as for his defensive contribution, the less said about that the better, especially after his attempt to tackle Sadio Mane in the first half.
There were many times at Barcelona when Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez would display their annoyance with Neymar's decision-making and habit of holding onto the ball a little bit too long, but he would get away with it at the Camp Nou because the players around him made up for his shortcomings. At PSG, though, those same shortcomings stand out a mile, because everyone looks to Neymar to make the difference.
Again, Mbappe helps Neymar out here by being the guy who can convert his passes, but although the teenager is destined to become football's biggest star, Neymar is still PSG's biggest name and he has to do more than he is at present, certainly in Europe.
Great players need to be challenged regularly, both by opponents and by their teammates, but that is not happening for Neymar in Paris. Perhaps he needs to move back to La Liga or to the Premier League so he can be tested on a weekly basis, rather than once every few weeks in the Champions League.
Staying in France will only make him settle for second-best and, at 26, he should be approaching his prime with the hunger and desire to beat Mbappe to the summit of the game. It doesn't look like he has that right now, though, and it was there for all to see at Anfield.
He isn't getting the best out of himself and PSG. For all of the kudos they got when signing Neymar, Les Parisiens are also being short-changed.