Ronaldo & Benzema, Cisse & Ba: 15 greatest strike partnerships of 21st century

The 15 greatest strike partnerships of the 21st century

It’s a dying breed, is the two-striker setup. Certainly at football’s very top level.

With all the focus on pressing, shape and midfield battles, the extra body is often utilised somewhere else. It’s gotten to a point where teams actually find it more efficient to play without a designated striker at all sometimes, never mind two of them.

Without sounding too preachy about things, the times when two-striker systems dominated the top of football was way more fun. Every kid wants to grow up and form a prolific strike partnership with their best friend, and they still do.

There are still plenty of sides committing to the strike partnership philosophy in more modernised ways, however, and we salute those clubs and coaches. Two-striker systems are still prevalent throughout France and Italy, with plenty of managers making the most of them in Ligue 1 and Serie A respectively.

But, in order to truly celebrate the dying art, we at GIVEMESPORT have compiled a list of the greatest strike partnerships to blossom within the 21st century.

15. Alexis Sanchez & Antonio Di Natale – Udinese

One that flies under the radar, a young Alexis Sanchez made waves with Udinese while plying his trade alongside iconic forward Antonio Di Natale between 2008 and 2011.

The pairing thrived together as Sanchez became one of the hottest young talents in Europe, combining with Di Natale over 39 goals in 2011 before leaving for Barcelona that year.

Sanchez and Di Natale at Udinese
UDINE, ITALY – JANUARY 24: Antonio Di Natale (L) of Udinese celebrates with Alexis Alejandro Sanchez after the scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between Udinese and Sampdoria at Stadio Friuli on January 24, 2010 in Udine, Italy. (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)

14. Luis Suarez & Daniel Sturridge – Liverpool

Ah yes, SAS. Suarez and Sturridge ran riot on the Premier League in the early-to-mid 2010s, firing Liverpool agonisingly close to the Premier League title in 2013/14.

It’s easy to forget just how lethal Sturridge was alongside the Uruguayan, having never really recovered from injuries and inconsistencies in the coming years, while Suarez became one of the world’s best.

Suarez and Sturridge at Liverpool are a forgotten duo
CARDIFF, WALES – MARCH 22: Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool celebrates with team mate Luis Suarez after scoring his team’s fifth goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Cardiff City and Liverpool at Cardiff City Stadium on March 22, 2014 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

13. Sergio Aguero & Diego Forlan – Atletico Madrid

A young up and coming Sergio Aguero combined with a prime Diego Forlan at Atletico Madrid and it was absolutely beautiful.

Two forwards who actually very much needed each other to get the best out of themselves at the time, the master and the apprentice linked up tremendously. Their partnership saw them bag 41 goals between them in 2008/09 as Forlan won the European golden shoe.

A young Sergio Aguero hit it off at Atletico Madrid
MADRID, SPAIN – AUGUST 27: Aguero (R) of Atletico Madrid celebrates his opening goal with his teammates Diego Forlan (C) and Mariano Pernia during the UEFA Champions League third Qualifying Round, second leg match between Atletico Madrid and FC Schalke at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on August 27, 2008 in Madrid, Spain. Atletico Madrid won the match 4-0. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

12. Demba Ba & Papiss Cisse – Newcastle

The streets won’t forget.

Might be because social media simply won’t allow you to forget, but it’s for good reason. Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse ran the Barclays in the early 2010s, firing Newcastle to the dizzying heights of European competition with a catalogue of goals, ripping defences apart for fun.

Ba and Cisse for Newcastle United
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 05: Goalscorers, Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba of Newcastle after the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Aston Villa at Sports Direct Arena on February 5, 2012 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

11. Harry Kane & Son Heung-min – Tottenham

A modern pick, Harry Kane‘s development into a more rounded forward who is now consistently creating opportunities has only helped his relationship with Son Heung-min.

Now, under Antonio Conte, the two look deadly. Son’s technique sees him able to finish from just about anywhere, while Kane plays scorer or provider. Endlessly complimentary, the two hold the Premier League record for goal combinations.

Kane and Son are becoming unstoppable at Spurs
LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 07: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates with Son Heung-Min after scoring their side’s fourth goal during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on March 07, 2021 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

10. Edin Dzeko & Grafite – Wolfsburg

Ripping the Bundesliga to shreds in 2008/09, Edin Dzeko and Grafite cemented themselves as Wolfsburg legends by firing the club to their maiden Bundesliga title.

The pair were literally unstoppable, scoring a combined 54 goals in the league to secure the title. The only issue is that Dzeko was swiftly snapped up by Manchester City. Short but sweet.

Dzeko's Wolfsburg form earned him a big transfer
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 30: Edin Dzeko of VfL Wolfsburg celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Manchester United and VfL Wolfsburg at Old Trafford on September 30, 2009 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

9. Romelu Lukaku & Lautaro Martinez – Inter

After years of high expectation and perhaps unfair scrutiny for his efforts in the Premier League, Romelu Lukaku forged a partnership in Milan that ensured he was adored forever by Inter fans. Until he left for England again, anyway.

Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez were electric as a front two, firing Antonio Conte’s Inter to the 2020/21 Scudetto in supreme style with 41 goals between them.

Inter won Serie A with Lukaku and Martinez
MILAN, ITALY – JANUARY 03: Romelu Lukaku of FC Internazionale celebrates his goal with his team-mate Lautaro Martinez during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale and FC Crotone at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 3, 2021 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Ralf Rangnick slams Man Utd players (Football Terrace)

8. Wayne Rooney & Dimitar Berbatov – Manchester United

An underrated duo, Wayne Rooney linked up tremendously with the endless composure and technique that Dimitar Berbatov provided.

Perhaps a little like chalk and cheese on the surface, the duo worked tremendously in the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence at United and guaranteed goals and creativity in the Autumn of Sir Alex Ferguson’s career.

Rooney and Berbatov complimented each other
MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM – OCTOBER 21: Dimitar Berbatov (L) of Manchester United celebrates his second goal with team mate Wayne Rooney during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Manchester United and Celtic at Old Trafford on October 21, 2008 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

7. Thierry Henry & Dennis Bergkamp – Arsenal

Plenty of English football fans still have nightmares about these two running rings around their favourite team.

Thierry Henry proved the perfect partner to a veteran Dennis Bergkamp at Arsenal as he geared up towards his prime. Pure technical excellence, the duo were insatiable every weekend. Invincible.

Henry and Bergkamp are Premier League legends
28 Nov 1999: Thierry Henry of Arsenal celebrates his goal with team mate Dennis Bergkamp during the FA Carling Premiership match against Derby County at Highbury in London. Arsenal won 2-1. \ Mandatory Credit: Gary Prior /Allsport

6. Samuel Eto’o & Diego Milito – Inter

This partnership is football heritage.

Samuel Eto’o played left wing but forged a tremendous partnership with throwback forward Diego Milito, proving unstoppable as they became treble winners under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho. One of football’s deadliest setups.

Eto'o and Milito won a treble with Inter
MILAN, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 22: Samuel Eto o (L) of FC Internazionale Milano celebrates his goal with Diego Milito during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale Milano and AS Bari at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on September 22, 2010 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

5. Andriy Shevchenko & Filippo Inzaghi – AC Milan

Joining forces under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti, Andriy Shevchenko reached dizzy new heights when combining with Filippo Inzaghi. Two big name strikers probably shouldn’t have worked together as well as they did, but alas, the partnership blossomed as the Rossoneri ruled European football.

Shevchenko and Inzaghi starred at Milan
MILAN, ITALY – OCTOBER 5: Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi of Milan celebrate during the Serie A match between Internazionale and AC Milan at the San Siro October 5, 2003 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Getty Images)

4. Wayne Rooney & Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United

How United fans long for these days once again. Tenacity, technique, aggression, mentality – and a shed load of goals and silverware.

No team was safe from these two when in full pomp. The Premier League couldn’t handle it, and neither could the Champions League.

Manchester United lack a strong striker duo these days
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN – DECEMBER 21: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United with team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo during the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 Final match between Manchester United and Liga De Quito at the International Stadium Yokohama on December 21, 2008 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

3. Ronaldo & Raul – Real Madrid

In a time before social media and the unfathomable superstardom of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and the modern day galacticos within football, R9 and Raul were striking fear through Europe in just as mesmerising style.

Upon his signing in 2002, Ronaldo provided an extra layer of edge and flair to an immense Real Madrid side, linking up seamlessly with local hero and gunman Raul as the two played off each other and dazzled spectators around Europe.

R9 and Raul were immense
MADRID, SPAIN – NOVEMBER 14: Real Madrid’s Brazilian player Ronaldo celebrates with England?s David Beckham, left, and Raul Gonzalez after scoring a goal in a Primera Liga soccer match against Albacete on November 14, 2004 at the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

2. Cristiano Ronaldo & Karim Benzema – Real Madrid

A link-up that resulted in European domination we are very unlikely to see be repeated in the near future.

Ronaldo was now the main event man in Madrid, while Karim Benzema quietly operated at a level that only the game’s elite could find. The Frenchman played creator and scorer, while Ronaldo popped up in the big moments when needed most. Four Champions League titles, back to back. Incredible.

Ronaldo and Benzema formed an iconic duo
MADRID, SPAIN – DECEMBER 08: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates with Karim Benzema after scoring Real’s 6th goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Madrid CF and Malmo FF at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on December 8, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

1. Lionel Messi & Luis Suarez – Barcelona

Perhaps harsh on Neymar to exclude him from the party, but we’d be lying if we said these two weren’t the ones doing the heavy lifting.

The greatest footballer of all time combining with one of the most ruthless, cold-blooded, technically excellent goal hunters of the modern era. No prizes for guessing that this was a match made in heaven. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez scored a combined 800 goals together at Barcelona. Yeah, eight hundred. Astounding numbers.

Messi and Suarez are the most lethal strike partnership of the 21st century
BARCELONA, SPAIN – MAY 06: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates with his team mate Luis Suarez after scoring his team’s second goal during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on May 6, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

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