Defences, be afraid – be very afraid
According to legendary American Football coach Bear Bryant, attackers sell tickets but defenders win titles. Some of the attacking arrays described in this feature managed both. Here we take a look at the best forward-lines football has offered us since the turn of the millennium, from a World Cup-winning triumvirate to the trio terrorising Europe's defences.
10. Pedro, Diego Costa, Eden Hazard
Although N’Golo Kante rightly took the plaudits as Chelsea regained the Premier League title last season, Antonio Conte’s rejuvenated front three of Pedro, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard should not be ignored. The trio had struggled together the previous season, but things clicked after Conte’s arrival.
Eden Hazard recaptured his best form; Pedro looked like the player we all knew from his Barcelona days; while Diego Costa was... well, Diego Costa. The trickery and pace of Hazard and Pedro out wide combined with Costa’s brutish approach through the middle proved a combination that few sides were able to stop.
9. Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon
The Partenopei’s front three of Italian Lorenzo Insigne, Belgian Dries Mertens and Spanish international Jose Callejon scored 60 goals between them as Napoli became the highest-scoring team in Serie A since Juventus in 1959/60. Despite their incredible 94 goals, Napoli finished second behind Juventus, missing out on their first Scudetto since a certain Maradona fired them to the title in 1989/90.
As things stand, Napoli’s top trio have notched 34 goals in all competitions as they sit proudly atop the Serie A table, a point better off than Juventus with 15 games left to play.
8. Hulk, Radamel Falcao, Silvestre Varela
Porto have long been known for making enormous profits from their extensive scouting network. When they threw together a Colombian signed from Argentina, a Brazilian brought in from Japan and a Sporting cast-off, the results were spectacular.
Making the most of it before the bigger boys of European football swooped to relieve the Dragons of their latest bargain buys, the trio scored a whopping 86 goals between them in the 2010/11 season. The Andre Villas-Boas coached side went the season undefeated and helped themselves to a glorious treble of Primeira Liga, Taca de Portugal and Europa League.
Porto boasted pace, power and trickery in abundance out wide as Hulk and Varela fed El Tigre Falcao – who scored an incredible 18 continental goals.
7. Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus
Borussia Dortmund, 2012-13
Oh, it was so near yet so far for Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund side in 2012/13. Ultimately let down by their leaky defence, BVB had to make do with second place in the Bundesliga and a runners-up medal in the Champions League – pipped to the trophy in both competitions by Bayern Munich. En route to that all-German Champions League final at Wembley, Dortmund utterly destroyed Real Madrid in the semi-final first leg, with Robert Lewandowski scoring all four goals in a 4-1 victory.
Nobody was more impressed than rivals Bayern. They triggered Gotze’s release clause and announced that he would be joining the Bavarians 36 hours before the semi-final against Real Madrid, and signed Lewandowski on a free transfer 12 months later. Ouch.
6. Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani, Neymar
PSG have been criticised for their financial outlay since the QSI takeover– but the £400m it cost to assemble their current front three is beginning to look like money well spent. Having been beaten to the Ligue 1 title by Monaco last season, the Parisians broke the world transfer record to take Neymar from Barcelona and took Kylian Mbappe from Les Monegasques last summer and it’s already paying off.
Not only have ‘MCN’ scored 69 goals between them already this season, but they've also produced over 30 assists and 'El Matador' Edinson Cavani has broken Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s record in the process to become PSG’s all-time leading goalscorer.
There’s talk of discord off the pitch between Neymar and Cavani but their understanding on it could fire the Parisians to a first ever Champions League triumph.
5. Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo
Manchester United, 2007-09
Dubbed the new ‘Holy Trinity’, Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez were arguably the most gifted – and feared – frontline in English football history. The trio didn’t have the longevity enjoyed by Old Trafford's original Holy Trinity of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best, but they made up for it by firing the Red Devils to no fewer than six trophies – including two successive league titles and a Champions League in 2008 – in two seasons together.
Ronaldo left for dream club Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 for a world record fee, while Carlos Tevez moved across Manchester to join fierce rivals City – spawning that infamous ‘Welcome to Manchester’ campaign – and Rooney stayed to become United’s all-time leading goalscorer.
4. Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi
Henry, Eto’o and Messi provided the goals for Pep Guardiola’s dazzlingly brilliant Barcelona side as the Catalans enjoyed the most successful spell in their history. The 2008/09 season saw them – and Barça – at their very best, with the front three scoring 100 goals between them in all competitions as the club swept to the treble of La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.
Even Spain’s best sides were swept aside. Real Madrid were humbled 6-2 at the Bernabeu, Sevilla crushed 4-0 and Atletico Madrid walloped 6-0 as Barcelona rightly took their place among the greatest football teams in the history of the sport.
3. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid, 2013-current
The ‘BBC’ have been prolific since Gareth Bale’s arrival for a world record fee in 2013, scoring over 400 goals between them and delivering three Champions League titles. Their lack of domestic success has seen them face serious criticism though, with even Cristiano being subjected to jeers and whistles at the Bernabeu from time to time.
Bale’s injury problems have hindered his and Madrid’s progress – and the BBC may not be around for much longer: all three have been linked with moves away from the club. The notoriously demanding Madrid crowd will miss them hugely when they’re gone.
2. Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Rivaldo
Brazil won their fifth World Cup crown under Luiz Felipe Scolari in Japan/Korea 2002, but it was the manner in which they did so that lingers long in the collective footballing memory. They outscored their opponents 18-4 en route to that record fifth World Cup, and the three R’s scored 15 of those 18 goals with at least one of them on the scoresheet in every game.
The Brazil squad was magnificent from back to front – Roberto Carlos and Cafu as wingbacks, Lucio in the heart of the defence, Juninho and Gilberto Silva in the middle – but it was the front three that dazzled. Just ask David Seaman and the England defence.
1. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar
MSN delivered a total of 364 goals, 173 assists and seven major honours in the three seasons they played together at Barcelona. Football had never seen anything like it before and may never see it again. The all-South American trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar – widely considered during their time together to be three of the four finest players on the planet – meshed so beautifully that they were almost impossible to stop.
With superhuman Lionel Messi out on the right, tenacious tyro Luis Suarez through the middle and a blossoming Neymar on the left, the three enjoyed a symbiotic relationship that was incredible to behold – for Barcelona supporters and football fans alike.
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