Following confirmation of Sadio Mane’s £35 million switch from Liverpool to Bayern Munich earlier this week, one of the most potent front threes of the 21st century is no more.
Alongside Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, Mane helped inspire the Reds to one of the most successful periods in their illustrious history.
It’s not just putting together three big-name strikers, though. A truly effective front three should work as a unit for the betterment of their team and Salah, Mane and Firmino have certainly done that since linking up at Anfield in 2018.
Ranking the 10 greatest front threes for the 21st century
Where, though, does the now-separated trio belong in terms of the greatest attacking trios of the 21st century? In an attempt to answer that question, we’ve had a stab at ranking the 10 best below.
10. Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo (AC Milan – 2004-05)
This fabulously talented trio really should have won silverware together – and looked set to do so when they went in 3-0 against Liverpool at half-time in the 2005 Champions League final. We all remember the madness that unfolded over the rest of that crazy night in Istanbul, but Milan’s capitulation on the big stage doesn’t change how glorious Kaka, Shevchenko and Crespo were to watch during this period.
9. Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, and Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal – 2000-04)
Bergkamp was undoubtedly past his best during Arsenal’s ‘invincible’ 2003/04 title-winning season, but his outrageous technical ability never left him.
Sitting in behind Henry and pulling the strings for the Gunners’ attack, Bergkamp’s assured approach to the game was the perfect foil for tricky winger Pires who would bamboozle defences with his two-footed brilliance.
8. Shinji Kagawa, Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski (Dortmund – 2010-12)
To this day the last attack to stop prevent Bayern Munich from winning the Bundesliga title, Kagawa, Gotze and Lewandowski powered Dortmund to German football’s top prize in 2010/11.
A year later, they managed to repeat the dose, as well as claiming the 2011/12 DFB-Pokal. The trio signed off in epic fashion, demolishing Bayern 5-2 in the DFB-Pokal final.
Dortmund’s manager during this period? A certain Mr. Klopp!
7. Arjen Robben, Mario Mandzukic and Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich – 2012-14)
Naturally, not happy about being upstaged by Dortmund over the previous couple of years, Bayern went out and added massive Croatian frontman Mandzukic to their ranks.
Alongside their established wide duo of Ribery and Robben, Bayern swept up silverware for fun, including the 2013 Champions League.
It all fizzled out pretty quickly when Pep Guardiola 2013 took charge and overhauled the Bavarian club’s style of play – Mandzukic was a square peg in a round hole in the new system once the Spaniard arrived.
For that first season together, though, the trio were irresistible.
6. Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho (Barcelona – 2004-07)
The first of three Messi-centric tridents we’ll speak about here.
With Messi as their young apprentice, Ronaldinho was at his magnificent best – seemingly creating chances at will – while Eto’o invariably finished them with supreme confidence. La Blaugrana ended a six-year wait for a La Liga crown when these three came together. The two things might just be linked!
Messi and Eto’o went on to form a highly effective partnership with Thierry Henry after Ronaldinho’s departure.
That line-up had one exceptional season in 2008/09, where Barca scooped a fantastic treble. However, Eto’o’s move to Inter Milan at the end of that campaign ended the association.
5. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane (Liverpool – 2017-22)
A front three that the red half of Merseyside truly took to their hearts – and it’s easy to see why!
Firing Liverpool to the Champions League final in their first season as a unit, hitting 10 goals each in the process, the trio couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
Denied by Real Madrid in that 2018 final, Klopp’s attacking gems went one better the following year, defeating Tottenham in the 2019 showpiece event.
Having conquered Europe, Salah, Mane and Firmino set their sights on raising Liverpool’s first top-flight trophy for 30 years in 2020, something they accomplished with ease.
Add in the FA Cup, the Carabao Cup and the Club World Cup to the trophy haul for good measure and you get a true insight into just how phenomenal the trio were for Liverpool.
In their time at Anfield together, Salah notched 65 goals and 21 assists, Mane pitched in with 44 goals and 17 assists, while Firmino contributed 35 goals and 16 assists. Truly special numbers.
4. Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United – 2007-2009)
These three only spent two seasons together, but what a trophy-laden couple of campaigns they were.
The spearhead of arguably Sir Alex Ferguson’s last great United team, Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo gave defences nightmares during their time together.
With none of the trio truly wingers or strikers, they were able to interchange seamlessly making United incredibly hard to stop. Attacking threats could come from any angle.
With Ronaldo showing the form that would ultimately see him take home the 2008 Ballon d’Or and Tevez and Rooney providing world-class support, United won a pair of Premier League titles, the 2008 Champions League, the League Cup and the World Club Cup.
3. Lionel Messi, Pedro and David Villa (Barcelona – 2010-13)
With lethal striker Villa banging in the goals and Pedro working hard to create opportunities and Messi playing with supreme freedom, this was Barcelona under Guardiola at their absolute finest.
Their first season as a unit in 2010/11 saw them claim both the La Liga title and the Champions League in fine style.
Disaster struck in December 2011, though, when Villa suffered a broken leg playing against Al-Sadd in the Club World Cup.
A long spell on the sidelines followed – and Barca noticeably struggled without Villa, failing to defend either of the trophies they had won the previous season.
Some questioned whether the trident would be able to rediscover their form upon Villa’s return. However, they need not have worried.
Reclaiming the La Liga with ease in 2012/13, Barcelona racked up a staggering tally of 100 points during the campaign, losing only two matches in the process.
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2. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid – 2013-18)
Partly because they bagged an impressive four Champions League crowns in their time together and partly to balance out the Messi’s dominant presence on this list, Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo take second place here.
La Liga success might have been thin on the ground, with only the 2016/17 title to their collective names, but in Europe’s premier club competition, these three were borderline untouchable.
Benzema and Ronaldo might have featured more consistently, but Bale routinely popped up with crucial goals, too.
Bale’s time at the Bernabeu didn’t end as he probably hoped it would when he joined back in 2013 but, in his early days at Los Blancos, he was a genuine difference-maker.
The Welshman scored in both finals as Real netted a cup double in his debut season – and also bagged three Champions League final goals during his time in the Spanish capital.
As a unit, Bale found the net 37 times, while Benzema scored on 41 occasions. Of course, that’s small fry to Ronaldo who smashed 80 goals while playing alongside the other two members of this prolific trio.
1. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar (Barcelona – 2014-2017)
Top billing on this list was never in doubt, was it?
With 364 goals and 173 assists between them across three seasons, these three were almost supernatural when they got together.
An outrageous 2014/15 season (122 goals and 55 assists) saw them waltz to the treble (La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey with a frightening sense of ease.
Although they couldn’t replicate that trophy haul in their other two seasons together, they still scored goals in simply ridiculous quantities.
They likey would have continued, too, had Neymar not broken up the band by orchestrating a move to PSG in 2017.
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