The most fearsome attack in world football has fired Barcelona to the verge of its fourth Champions League title in a decade. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have scored 25 of Barcelona’s 28 goals on the way to the final and few are betting against them leading the club to a record second treble on Saturday.
With one game still to play, the Barca trident has scored 120 goals in all competitions this season, bettering the mark of 118 set by Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain in 2012.
Not only do they score goals, however, they create them too, and it is the nature of their unselfish play that has seen them reap the rewards and cause havoc to opposing defenses.
In contrast to the famed “BBC” of Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo at Madrid, Barcelona’s trio work together to create space in which the others thrive.
Suarez has been the main beneficiary. Despite a slow start – a start delayed further after his fourth-month ban for biting Italy and Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup – the Uruguay forward has contributed 24 goals in his debut season at Barcelona. The delicate touch he displayed to control the ball before firing Barcelona to victory over Madrid in March illustrated why the Catalan side took a chance on the immensely talented but controversial player.
Suarez is arguably the “missing piece” Barcelona was looking for after a trophyless season in 2013-14 under Gerardo Martino.
Neymar too appears to have matured. Still only 23, the Brazilian is in his second season at Barca and seems to have toned down flamboyance for greater efficiency. He has scored 38 goals this season, including decisive goals in important games, not least the injury time-strike against Bayern Munich that gave Barca one foot in the Champions League final with a 3-0 semifinal first leg result. He scored twice again in the second leg for a 5-3 aggregate win.
Messi remains the undisputed star, though. Despite not playing as an out-and-out forward the Argentine has bagged an incredible 58 goals alone in this campaign. If he scores again against Juventus on Saturday Messi will be the first player to score in three Champions League finals, having also found the net in Barca’s 2009 and 2011 triumphs.
The 27-year-old’s mere presence causes consternation in opposing defenses, which often resort to man-marking, sometimes with more than one defender. This is turn creates more space for his companions and very often proves futile in any case as the elusive Messi always looks capable of gliding past defenders.
Suarez is the tallest of the forwards, yet is hardly a giant at 1.81 meters (5-foot-11). Neymar is 1.75 meters (5-foot-9) and Messi is 1.69 meters (5 foot-6) cm. The latter certainly uses his low center of gravity to his advantage, as Diego Maradona, another Argentine great, did before him.
It was the decision to switch Messi to the right and give Suarez more room in front of goal that helped turn Barcelona’s season around. The club was in turmoil after a 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad on Jan. 4 capped a series of uninspired results.
Messi missed training the following day, prompting talk of a rift with coach Luis Enrique. Sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta was sacked the same day, his assistant Carles Puyol left, and president Josep Bartomeu called for early elections.
The crisis helped Enrique turn things around with the realization that Messi and Suarez playing together up front left little room for either to operate.
“It was very crowded so the decision was taken to move Leo further out,” Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said.
Messi duly obliged by leading Barcelona on a run that included 31 wins, two draws and just one defeat. The side is now tantalizingly close to repeating its 2009 Spanish league, cup and Champions League treble.
“Messi is the best in the world without a doubt, for me the best in history,” Enrique said. “But to win trophies we need a team behind, playing together, as we are doing.”