Neymar Jr continues to prove why he's the next best thing

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In a game that provided the glamorous names that every Champions League final should, Saturday's clash between Barcelona and Juventus was put to bed by the enduring pressure of Barcelona's greatest ever side and the quality of their strike force, in particular Neymar Jr. 

Prior to the game on Saturday all the talk was of the danger that Barcelona's attacking trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar posed and whether or not Juventus had the ability to weather the storm that the most prolific front line in Spanish football history threatened.

Barca too lethal

The short answer was no. But in reality the game itself was a lot more open and tentative, like any cup final should be, and while others showed nerves and cagey finishing, it was one of football's brightest young talents who took the game by the scruff of the neck.

Neymar was presented to 56,000 fans at the Nou Camp in the summer of 2013 after a transfer fee in the region of £50 million was agreed between Barcelona and Santos.

Neymar development

It was widely accepted the player had work to do, so much so that even Barca's doctor suggested the player bulked up in order to keep up with the physicality of the Spanish league.

His first season in La Liga witnessed the teething problems everyone had come to expect, as the YouTube clips and highlight reels of Brazil's prodigal son making fools out of defences in his homeland did not reestablish themselves in Spain. 

Often criticised for being too lightweight, found guilty of unnecessary showboating and going down too easily, Neymar ironically struggled to find his feet, and although he managed 15 goals in his first season, it appeared that, once again, the hype around a young flashy Brazilian 'superstar' might have been misplaced.

Young lion/ big dog

The Golden Boy of Brazil saw little respite in pressure, as the 2014 World Cup was anticipated to be his stage to show the world what he and Brazil could do. On home soil Neymar was supposed to lead his Brazil side to World Cup glory.

Neymar, at the age of 22, carried the weight of his country's expectations on his shoulders and scored two goals in Brazil's opening game but, just as Brazil did, his World Cup ended in disappointment and an injury against Colombia in the quarter finals brought down the curtain on a frustrating tournament.

Building blocks

Brushing himself off, Neymar, who didn't have a bad season by all means, had a reputation to build. Not one to care for the negative comments, his greatest achievement this season was how he handled his position alongside a stellar front three consisting of himself, Suarez and Messi.

It looked as though the signing of Suarez could cause a power struggle, as big names often do, however Neymar vastly improved as Messi's switch to the right hand side in November allowed the player to open up play and gave him the comfort to do so. 

Suarez's return from suspension is in no way coincidental as Barcelona have seen the pieces finally fall into place. The trident in attack look so comfortable and formidable it is clear that they enjoy playing together, and the 121 goals they've scored between them is testament to that.

Fulfilling his destiny

Like many players it took Neymar time to find his feet, and although it looked like the merciless fans and pundits gave him little time to do so it is clear Neymar has worked exceptionally hard to fulfil his great potential.

All of which became blindingly apparent in Saturday's game. 

The questions has often been posed if he could do it against the big teams, Neymar has on more than once proved his critics wrong. Three goals in two games against Bayern Munich, during which which he ran more than any other Barca player, and a man of the match performance against a tough Juventus team in the final, that was duly capped with a goal, are evidence to his boldness in the face of adversity.

39 goals in his second season at the Nou Camp, more than double what he scored in his first is a tribute to how hard Neymar works. Not one to rest on his laurels and let the brilliance of Barcelona do the work for him, he has shown time and time again this season how he deserves his place in the side. 

Next challenge

However, with the Copa America on the horizon, Neymar is going to Chile as a reborn player, at the age of just 23.

Constantly compared to Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he is improving at an astronomical rate. Messi (27) and Ronaldo (30) have undoubtedly been the standout players of this generation but there will come a time when their influence will depreciate, as Messi already drops deeper to adapt to the speed of the game.

This paves the way for players like Neymar, a player who has evolved so quickly to life in a different league and changed the way he approaches his opponent. His second season in Spain has shown how fast he has learned from his first, and at this rate it is going to be sooner rather than later that we will begin to see the third superpower of world football come to the fore. 

Football fans, can Neymar be as good as Ronaldo and Messi? Let us know in the comments box below.

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Lionel Messi
Cristiano Ronaldo

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