Insatiable appetite for goals

There are so many numbers floating around that tell of the dominance of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. The one that is striking is, the trio has scored 68 goals in 29 La Liga games so far and in the process has outscored 95 of the 97 other teams in Europe’s top five leagues!

Barcelona's strike force... Luis Suarez (left), Neymar (centre) and Lionel Messi.   -  Getty Images

Barcelona manager Luis Enrique (left) at a training session on the eve of the Champions League final against Juventus last season. Enrique's advice to his striking trio, Messi, Suarez and Neymar, is perhaps to have fun on the field.   -  Getty Images

Arsene Wenger compares the Barcelona trio to Alfredo Di Stefano, Francisco Gento and Ferenc Puskas, who formed Real Madrid's incisive attack in the 1950s.   -  Getty Images

I’m not sure how much is left to say that hasn’t already been said about what Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar — or MSN as they are conveniently christened — are doing to world football. But as a fan of Barcelona, I’ll use this column as an ode to an attack that will go down in history as a pack that hunted better than any other did.

 

Their appetite for goals is insatiable. I couldn’t but stand and applaud when Espanyol managed to hold them to a goalless draw recently. There are so many numbers floating around that tell of their dominance, and the one that struck me was, the trio has scored 68 goals in 29 La Liga games so far and in the process has outscored 95 of the 97 other teams in Europe’s top five leagues!

Much has been discussed and debated about how three strikers of the calibre of Messi, Neymar and Suarez would dwell together on the same pitch. They are different players and completely different characters. Also, they come from countries that are fierce rivals. But all those differences count for nothing, and the way they go about shredding one defence after another is proof enough of the fact.

Their body language does enough to suggest that they are having a great time on the pitch and that, according to me, is the secret of their success as a pack. The best pep talk is when managers ask you to go out there and have fun, and that is exactly what Luis Enrique seems to be relaying to his attack.

While all the noise around the three is about the goals they score, it’s also about the goals they create for each other. They revel in setting up the other as much as they do scoring themselves and that is amazing to watch. Messi’s ‘passed’ penalty for Suarez to score against Celta Vigo tells you everything you need to know about what I’ve just said. For all the history buffs, the legendary Johan Cruyff and his Ajax team-mate Jesper Olsen first executed this routine in a game against Helmond Sport in 1982.

‘MSN’ have as many as 32 assists between them in the League and that number would have surely risen by the time this piece comes out in print.

It may sound strange but as much as I don’t look beyond Messi for most examples of brilliance, it’s Suarez who comes across as the catalyst that bonds the trio together. You wouldn’t make much of the character of a footballer who’s had the infamous distinction of receiving the biggest ban in World Cup history after sinking his teeth into Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in 2014. But he is a likeable character and it’s evident when you see him celebrating a goal and it doesn’t matter who has scored it.

Before Barcelona’s 2-0 defeat of Arsenal in the Champions League Round of 16 clash, Arsene Wenger — who is one of the finest brains in the game — picked out Suarez for a threat while warning his team of complacency against the Uruguayan. He also went on to tell how Suarez brings camaraderie to the team, just as he did at Liverpool and with the national team alongside Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan.

Wenger also went on to compare the Barca trio to Real Madrid’s pack of three from the 1950s that included Alfredo Di Stefano, Francisco Gento and Ferenc Puskas.

I always wonder what an opponent team’s talks must be like before a game against Barcelona? Can you have a plan to neutralise Messi, Suarez and Neymar at the same time? Also interesting is the fact that, compared to last season, Suarez and Neymar played almost every minute alongside Messi, spare when injury or rest has kept them away. One and even two of them can afford to have an ordinary day knowing well that the third has enough talent to pull something special out of the bag on the night.

Among the three, Messi gets most of the attention and there is no contesting why. He’s quickly followed by Suarez, who is netting goals like it’s going out of style. But to overlook Neymar simply because he is third on that list will be foolish. It’s amazing how the young Brazilian has come into his own rather quickly. A few years ago, you would stereotype Neymar as the quintessential footballer from Brazil, who comes with his bag of tricks on the pitch and flash off it; as someone who will fade out like so many others have from the South American factory. But he is doing enough to carve his own identity.

He is taking responsibility and this trait came to the fore when Messi missed 10 games with injury a while ago. Neymar suddenly became the central figure on whom the responsibility of leading the attack lay. He responded and how. In those 10 games without Messi, Neymar scored 11 of Barca’s 27 goals and had an impressive 7 assists to show. When Messi returned, Neymar was happy to drift away from being the man in focus.

This is exactly what is special about these three as individuals and as a team. That said, Barcelona isn’t just about ‘MSN’. It’s about a fantastic team of workers that are happy to be behind the scene while their attacking trio is the talk of the town.

They are perfectly fine not being part of the headlines. In all honesty, even Messi, Suarez and Neymar aren’t too bothered about making the news. It’s just that world cannot get enough of them which is why they are only happy to oblige. Just like when a defence makes that one small mistake, when the ball is at their feet.