Europe's Finest Frontmen from Barca, Madrid and Bayern
In the last few seasons, the European football scene has been dominated by the gargantuan institutions from Spain and Germany. Champions League titles and an exhilarating style of play on the domestic scene and 4 consecutive international trophies for the respective national teams provide all the evidence one needs of sides bursting with attacking talent. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have wasted no time this summer in adding yet more quality to their forward options. The thought of these sides clashing in the coming year is a mouth-watering prospect, but who can boast the most potent strike force of the lot?
While 2013/14 was far from a vintage campaign for the boys from Catalonia, their strike-force remains one of the most feared on the planet. Neymar arrived in last summer’s transfer window and although he didn’t quite hit the heights that his price tag demanded, a dazzling World Cup before his dramatic back injury should at least give him a much-needed confidence boost.
Barcelona may have lost Alexis Sanchez from their quartet of forwards but they have brought in perhaps the best striker over the last couple of seasons. Luis Suarez; wrought with controversy and shameful action, made a £75 million move to the Spanish giants. A front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez is nothing less than frightening. All with supreme dribbling ability, an eye for the spectacular, and capable of producing on the biggest of stages, Barca must be considered amongst the top contenders for Europe’s biggest competitions.
Pedro Rodriguez provided plenty of goals and assists for the Camp Nou side despite finding opportunities limited. He may well be forced to experience a similar turn of events in the coming season if you assume that new coach Luis Enrique will persist with a 4-3-3 formation. A front three combination of Messi, Neymar and Suarez is full of goals and skill. All capable of playing right across the front line, you are likely to find that rotating positions will be a key factor to Barcelona’s success.
Victorious in the Champions League and Copa del Rey last campaign, and only just losing out in La Liga, it goes without saying that Real Madrid are highly effective going forward. Week to week on the domestic front, they are not necessarily tested to their maximum so it is difficult to judge them from this evidence alone. However, when you consider their performances in Europe’s elite competition, in particular in the latter stages, their true class is there for all to see. Defeating the favourites for the tournament 5-0 over two legs in the semi-final and then to win 4-1 against their neighbours in the final itself requires some serious talent up front.
Officially the best player in the world for 2013; Cristiano Ronaldo, belongs to Real Madrid and is their main man without a doubt. Despite injury problems curtailing his end to the season, he was still able to rack up 51 goals in all competitions at a rate of better than one every game. Once the most expensive player in world football, he lost that title to team mate Gareth Bale last summer and since then, they have combined to become a deadly duo. Both possess outstanding pace, power, dribbling ability, and an incredibly powerful shot. Many likenesses can be drawn between the pair but unlike others before them, their similarities have not held them back, instead allowing each to flourish and reach new heights.
Perhaps the most understated of Madrid’s chief attackers is Karim Benzema, and yet he is one of the most natural and accomplished finishers in the game today. Bayern Munich found this out to their cost as he was a constant thorn in their side during their match-up in the Champions League. A successful World Cup campaign with France on a personal level will only serve to give him a further boost for the year to come.
In many people’s eyes, the best player of the World Cup was Colombia’s James Rodriguez. He shot to stardom with 6 goals and 5 assists, soon becoming Madrid’s latest Galactico. It will be fascinating to see him applying the same form in Spain and attempting to build a relationship with the current heroes of Los Blancos. Most likely playing off one flank or in the hole behind the striker, I can see many an assist being served up for others along with popping up with a goal or two himself every so often.
At their worst last season, they held the ball seemingly just for the sake of it and had no thrust or penetration in the attacking third. While the fluidity was there for all to see when lining up without a nominal striker, in the biggest games they were found to be rather ineffectual. With no particular player to look for in attacking areas, the space which their outstanding movement created was not capitalised upon. At the World Cup, Germany began the tournament with a similar set-up and although they found joy against Portugal, the arrival of the knockout stages meant a much greater role for Miroslav Klose. The true number 9 made a noticeable difference to the side and did not have a detrimental effect on their passing game. Bayern and Pep Guardiola would do well to learn from this.
Bayern Munich’s key addition over the summer months has been the Polish forward, Robert Lewandowski. In a move that had been all but confirmed for 12 months, the ex-Dortmund man would take up the goal-scoring mantle. During Dortmund’s run to the Champions League final in 2013, Lewandowski struck four past Real Madrid to really demonstrate his class at the very highest level.
Germany’s top goal scorer at the past two World Cups has been Thomas Müller and yet he is not always given the regular football he deserves. It will be very interesting to see how Guardiola accommodates both Müller and Lewandowski into his plans for the new season. The form of fellow attackers Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben will play a large part in how much game time each receives. The latter had a hugely impressive World Cup in Brazil and while Ribéry has probably peaked, he still has a great deal to offer. It would be an exceptionally attacking line-up that housed all 4 of these star names, possibly requiring others such as Schweinsteiger and Thiago to take up deeper roles. When you think of the firepower at their disposal, and names such as Mario Götze who have not even been mentioned, it is clear that the defining factor will be their ability to gel together as a unit. Individual talent a-plenty, defenders across Europe will be quaking in their boots.
Statistics alone would give the impression that the most potent forward line belongs to Real Madrid (109 goals), closely followed by Barcelona (106 goals) with Bayern (91 goals) lagging behind somewhat. I tend to agree with the statistical analysis; that on top form, the Spaniards have a little more at their disposal. I believe that Bayern’s attacking prowess lies in the fluidity of movement rather than relying primarily on supreme individual talent. In Suarez, Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo, and Bale, the two Spanish sides have players who are quite simply on another level to all other challengers in the world game.
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