Lionel Messi is a supremely gifted footballer, the best of his generation, and his versatility, incisiveness and decisiveness have benefitted Barcelona greatly over the past decade in their bid to become the best team in Europe, as well as the most popular.
The Argentine who was blessed enough to play with Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o in one of the most entertaining and deadly tridents in Barcelona’s history, had a perfect foundation for growth in a team where he was one of the most vital players but not under an immense amount of pressure.
The complimentary nature of his game to his Brazilian samba god, and Cameroonian indomitable lion strike partners meant that on one of his off days, Messi and Barcelona could rely on Ronaldinho and Eto’o to deliver that bit of magic the team needed.
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Fast forward to the start of the Pep Guardiola era and questionable exit of football legend Ronaldinho, and we get the first glimpses of the manager's genius.
Surely everyone knew Thierry Henry was a world class striker, and a feared name across Europe, but many elite strikers have failed to blend with new teams i.e Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona, Edinson Cavani at PSG, Radamel Falcao at Manchester United, and Fernando Torres at Chelsea, among a non-exhaustive list.
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Sure you can argue that Arsenal and Barcelona were basically mirror images of each other at that point, formation wise, and stylistically, but nonetheless it was a gamble on Guardiola’s part to buy the Frenchman.
The way Henry complimented the attacking prowess of Messi and Eto’o must have surprised even Guardiola himself, as his new attacking force, beyond all conceivable propositions managed to somehow trump the attacking force Barcelona had while Ronaldinho was still at the Camp Nou.
This made life especially great for Messi who benefited greatly from the distracting runs of Eto’o, and the 1-2 passing ability of Henry. But in one of the most shocking and honestly most financially unsound deals ever (for Barcelona anyway), the club elected to get rid of Eto’o and paid cash on top of that to bring in Ibrahimovic.
Everyone can’t be perfect, and to date this is probably the biggest blemish on Guardiola’s coaching career. Nonetheless, Ibrahimovic was expected to be a big hit at the Camp Nou, and while he certainly eased in well into the team, scoring a decent amount of goals, he was at fault for squandering multiple clear cut chances each game, which apparently frustrated Messi enough that signs on the field suggested he did not like passing the ball to the Swede.
The dramatic and somewhat swift exit of the Ibrahimovic left at Barcelona (with the exception of Messi, David Villa and Pedro), a brief history of strike partners incompatible with Messi’s style of play (most notably Alexis Sanchez). That is until now.
The best yet
Barcelona’s current strike force of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have a legitimate claim for the most deadly attacking force in the club's history. It’s not just about the goal stats, but rather it is the way the front three are able to explosively transition Barcelona’s tiki-taka game of death by a thousand passes into a version 2.0 that is most accurately describe by BeIN sport’s Ray Hudson as “tiki-dagger”.
Messi will always be Messi, doing things that only Messi can do, but now he does not have to bear the burden of carrying the team solely, as he can rely on the deadly finishing of both Neymar and Suarez.
Suarez brings to the table incisive runs reminiscent of Eto’o, while Neymar has the trickery to ghost past any marker. Make no mistake about this though, Messi dependence is very much still real at Barcelona after all, he is the best player in the world.
What team wouldn’t depend on such a player? However, unlike the last few seasons at Barcelona, the opposition faces the prospect of playing them knowing that stopping Messi is simply not enough to get you something from the game anymore.
You also have to deal with arguable two of the top four attackers in world football, and that is a prospect that must scare the living daylights out of opposition teams.
Barcelona fans: is the current strikeforce the best in the club's history? Let us know below!