- Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have scored 120 goals between them for Barcelona this season
- The trio are fast being considered one of the most dangerous strikeforces in the history of world football
- Only three teams in Europe’s top five leagues have scored more than than Messi, Suarez and Neymar this season
- Barca take on Juventus in the Champions League final this Saturday
It sounds like the start of a corny joke: there’s an Argentine, a Uruguayan and a Brazilian — but for all those who questioned the wisdom of bringing together three of the biggest names in world football and hoping their egos wouldn’t clash, Barcelona have had the last laugh.
Since Luis Enrique presented Luis Suarez to his new team-mates Lionel Messi and Neymar last summer, saying: ‘They’ve finally got him out of Guantanamo’ — referring to the FIFA-imposed ban from all football activity that Barcelona successfully appealed against at the Court of Arbitration — the trio have gone from strength to strength.
There were teething problems in the first three months, with Suarez shifted out to the right to keep Messi in the middle. But after one game in which the pair swapped positions and Messi, seeing Suarez trotting back out to the wing, told him ‘you stay where you are’, they have not looked back.
Luis Suarez (left), Neymar (centre) and Lionel Messi have scored 120 goals between them this season
Suarez called it accurately when he spoke to me at the start of the season, saying: ‘Me being the reference point inside the area is going to benefit the team a lot.
‘I’m not saying I’ll play as a typical No 9 but because of the natural movements of Leo and Neymar, that is the space I will often end up occupying. People say it will resemble the (Samuel) Eto’o, Messi, (Thierry) Henry forward line. That could be true.’
He was wrong about the last part, in as much as that trio stopped scoring once they had reached 100 goals, while Neymar, Suarez and Messi now have 120 between them. And, sure enough, with Messi dropping ever deeper and Neymar comfortable to the left, Suarez has found himself as the team’s target man.
A FEARSOME STRIKEFORCE:
(Games, Goals, Assists)
Lionel Messi: 56, 58, 27
Luis Suarez: 42, 24, 21
Neymar: 50, 38, 7
25. The Trio have scored 25 of Barcelona’s 28 Champions League goals this season.
10. They scored all 10 of Barca’s in the last four CL games (vs PSG and Bayern Munich)
3. Neymar has scored their last 3 CL goals – Messi and Suarez were involved in all of them.
Since January 1
Messi: 34 goals, 35 games
Suarez: 21 goals, 31 games
Neymar: 24 goals, 32 games
GOALS, GLORIOUS GOALS
Only three teams in Europe’s top five leagues, excluding Barcelona, have scored more than Messi, Suarez and Neymar this season.
1. Real Madrid….162
2. Bayern Munich…123
The fact he did not arrive demanding to play through the middle helped the process of acceptance.
‘With the arrival of Suarez, Leo gained a friend, not a rival,’ says Marca journalist Veronica Brunati, the Argentine who knows Barca’s No 10 as well as anyone.
Suarez continues to be a curious contradiction. His hat-trick of bites will forever go down as one of the game’s most odious episodes. And yet everyone who shares a dressing room with Suarez describes him as the epitome of a selfless, respectful team-mate.
He has succeeded in finding harmony alongside Messi. ‘They get on as well off the pitch as they do on it,’ says head coach Enrique.
Messi and Suarez have young sons, Thiago and Benjamin, of a similar age and the two dads have even shared kindergarten collection duties.
Far from being the odd man out, Neymar is an important part of the group. ‘He will maybe have his occasional party,’ one club insider told me. ‘But when the time comes to work he is there, fully focused and ready to do his job. This is not a frivolous kid. This is the best player in Brazil.’
Neymar is 23, Suarez 28 and Messi 27 so the feeling at Barcelona is that they have at least four years together ahead of them. It has taken Suarez long enough to reach the medals table, and now he wants to stay. Messi has been re-invigorated and Neymar’s 38 goals this season have reaffirmed his credentials.
The idea of the club’s most extravagantly assembled trio winning the treble in its first campaign has been a driving force. Even Johan Cruyff criticised the bringing together of this illustrious front three.
When Neymar signed, Cruyff questioned what he called having ‘two captains on the same boat’ and suggested Suarez’s signing had come at the expense of buying the midfielders that had once been Barca’s lifeblood.
Neymar (left) out paces Barcelona defender Dani Alves (right) during a training session on Thursday
Barcelona defender Adriano (left) marks Messi during a club training session at Ciutat Esportiva
Suarez (left), Messi (centre) and Neymar (right) pose with the Copa del Rey trophy on May 30
Proving people wrong has been a major motivation but there have been other strong ones, too. The power struggle in January wrestled some control from Enrique and once the players had won that battle, they needed to back it up with results. There has also been a desire to send Xavi off in style. Andres Iniesta told me: ‘If the last image we have of him in a Barcelona shirt is of him holding the European Cup above his head, it will be perfect.’
Xavi could have lifted the trophy at Wembley in 2011 but decided, with fellow club captain Carles Puyol, to let Eric Abidal do the honours. The Frenchman had played the full 90 minutes only two and a half months after having a tumour removed from his liver. This time, it will be Xavi if Barcelona win.
Barcelona’s long-serving midfielder Xavi is set to leave the club at the end of the season
Former Barcelona defender Eric Abidal lifts the Champions League trophy following the final win in 2011
Suarez will need to keep his head as he crosses paths once more with Patrice Evra, who he was found guilty of racially abusing while playing for Liverpool in 2011. But Suarez has gone all season without a suspension and Evra has said he’ll shake his hand before the game.
The Uruguayan’s story stands out among all the subplots. Until this season, all he had won was a Uruguayan title with Nacional, a Dutch Cup, a Dutch league medal posted to him because he had left Ajax and a League Cup at Liverpool.
He has scored fewer goals than his fellow forwards but, with Neymar and Messi as strike partners, that is unlikely to take the shine off a victory in Berlin.
Suarez strikes an acrobatic attempt at goal during the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao
Suarez has scored 24 goals in 42 games for Barcelona this season following his transfer from Liverpool
Source: Daily Mail