There is a lot to be said for having a world-class forward spear heading your team’s attack. There is even more to be said for a harmonious strike partnership of two top-quality stars. So, when three such players can coexist on the pitch at the same time, results can be truly devastating. FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar complete the latest trio on course to be remembered by succeeding generations. Dubbed ‘MSN’, they are already about as popular as the defunct messenger service was in its heyday; just search the acronym on YouTube and already most of the top results are dedicated to Barca’s South American threesome, and their first season together is not even finished yet!
It is a rarity to find the right balance of chemistry required for three such superstar forwards to work together effectively. In the case of MSN, all three just seem to click in a footballing sense perfectly, happy to pass the ball between themselves and provide the goals as much as score them. With Messi as the undoubted ringleader, Suarez and Neymar serve to further the Argentine’s brilliance by providing him with a more than competent pair of teammates who can give and receive a clinical key pass. Together they have contributed 115 goals in all competitions already, with a league fixture and two cup finals still to play. If Suarez manages to recover from injury in time it should be a joy to watch these three maestros try to break down the formidable backline of Juventus.
The Nou Camp’s latest favourites are not, of course, the first team to benefit from a synchronised attacking trio over the years. Here are some of the others destined to be remembered in football history books as the greatest three-pronged strike-forces:
Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry
FC Barcelona – 2007-2009
Where better to start than by comparing MSN with another of Catalonia’s recent successful forward lines? Since Frank Rijkaard took over Barcelona in 2003 especially, there have been multiple successful combinations used to great effect in a 4-3-3 system. Initially Ronaldinho, Ludovic Giuly and Samuel Eto’o led the line in back-to-back La Liga and the 2006 Champions League triumphs; more recently, Lionel Messi was partnered with David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez for 2011’s second Champions League final defeat of Manchester United. However, statistically speaking, it was the combination of Messi, Eto’o and Henry used during 2009’s first victory over the Red Devils which yielded the best results together.
With Ronaldinho’s influence waning and Giuly’s departure, Henry was bought from Arsenal to partner the emerging Messi and established star Eto’o. After a year of gelling during the 2007-08 season, which ended in disappointment on all fronts, the three really clicked for the whole of the ‘08-09 campaign. A century of goals in all competitions was split between the trio as they proved unstoppable domestically and across the continent. An historic La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble was completed by the end of the season; Eto’o and Messi scoring the winning goals over United in the latter’s Rome final.
Sir Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law, George Best
Manchester United – 1964-1969
Speaking of Manchester United, they boasted perhaps the world’s most famous footballing triumvirate. Debuting together for the first time in January 1964, the connection was instant, as all three netted in a 4-1 win over West Bromwich Albion. For the next half-decade, everything the Englishman, Scot and Northern Irishman combined to create was pure gold, and Old Trafford regulars must have been proud to watch their heroes – dubbed the United Trinity – notch up over six hundred goals between them during their respective times at the club – a great deal of those while they were on the pitch together.
Perhaps the greatest misfortune was that they could not share United’s finest hour of that generation together, as Law missed the 1968 European Cup demolition of Benfica with a knee injury. Sir Matt Busby’s resignation in 1969 led to the United Trinity’s decline, but for a time his forward line was the most formidable in world football – Law, Charlton and Best each won the European Footballer of the Year award in 1964, ’66 and ’68 respectively.
Best’s unrivalled dribbling ability, Charlton’s rounded genius and Law’s uncanny finishing was a completely complimenting dynamic that has perhaps not been matched to this day. Sir Alex Ferguson did try however, and the 2007-09 combination of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez has often been cited as the United Trinity’s modern equivalent. Back-to-back Premier League titles and Champions League final appearances – including 2008’s triumph over Chelsea – are indicative of the trio’s impact, and it is a shame that we only got an all-to-brief glimpse into their potential.
Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti
Hungary – 1948-1956
It is hard to imagine nowadays that Hungary was once the centre of the footballing world for producing world-class talent. The late forties and early fifties especially yielded unprecedented success for the eastern European ‘Golden Team’ as it swept aside opposition in a manner no team has quite managed since. Leading the line was a threesome so formidable it might still send shivers down the spines of any English fans old enough to remember: Puskas, of Real Madrid fame, Honved and Barcelona legend Kocsis, and the lesser known but arguably most important Hidegkuti, who spent his most successful years with Hungarian club MTK.
While Puskas and Kocsis scored goals for fun, each averaging in and around a goal per game for the national side, it was Hidegkuti who provided the subtle magic behind it all. Scoring a mere (!) 39 goals in 69 appearances, the late genius’s role was to act as a false striker, drawing out the opposition’s central defender by dropping into a deeper position and allowing room for his wealthily talented compatriots to exploit. The trio tore opposition to shreds, cantering to the gold medal position at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics before annihilating England 6-3 at Wembley a year later. In 1954, with the World Cup weeks away, Puskas, Kocsis and Hidegkuti again swept aside England, this time 7-1 in Budapest, and must have looked like overwhelming favourites to lift the pinnacle trophy in Switzerland. Cue the Miracle of Bern, as West Germany somehow found it in themselves to conquer a 2-0 early deficit and 8-2 thrashing earlier in the competition, to snatch the world’s biggest prize from its greatest team at the time.
Combined, Kocsis, Puskas and Hidegkuti scored an astonishing 197 goals for Hungary, playing together for eight years and becoming arguably the greatest team to never win a World Cup.
Piet Keizer, Sjaak Swart, Johan Cruyff
AFC Ajax – 1965-1973
The emergence of Total football– a stark contrast to Italian clubs’ defensive catenaccio –was greatly influenced, of course, by the emergence of Ajax and Netherlands legend Cruyff. In a system that encouraged even centre backs like Ruud Krol to score highly, it might be a tad optimistic to say that Cruyff’s partnership with Keizer and Swart was a traditional forward trio, but they complimented each other so effectively and for such an extended period that the combination’s success is difficult to overlook.
‘Mister Ajax’ Swart was a mainstay at the club already by the time Keizer and Cruyff established themselves in the mid-sixties, and trophies were quick to arrive at the Amsterdam club, and would continue to do so for the next eight years. With Cruyff playing as the central striker, Swart and Keizer were deployed as his chief suppliers and targets on either wing. They did so magnificently well – both scored over a century and a half of goals while Cruyff himself netted over 200 during this period of continuous achievements. Six Eredivise titles and four KNVB Cups came domestically, while the club’s lasting dynasty of three consecutive European Cups from 1971-73 was thanks in no short supply to the club’s classy forward line.
As the years progressed the combination of Keizer and Swart began to vary, as players like Johnny Rep emerged from the next generation and Swart especially headed towards retirement. But Ajax’s traditional forward three was an unrivalled entity at its zenith, defeating the best defensive sides like Internazionale, Juventus and Atletico Madrid with pure, entertaining style of play.
So, where does the Messi, Suarez and Neymar trio combination rank with other forward lines through that found success in the past? For now it is difficult to gauge – a defining Champions League final against Juventus awaits – but the chemistry and effectiveness shown by MSN has made for thrilling viewing this season.
This list of greatest attacking threesomes was only my opinions – if you agree, or have a favourite I have missed, do feel free to share in the comments section below.
Could this Ajax duo be a suitable alternative to Mamadou Sakho at Crystal Palace?
The Guardian are reporting that Crystal Palace are preparing to end their pursuit of Mamadou Sakho, after being priced out of a move for the out-of-favour Liverpool defender.
The Frenchman has been frozen out of the first team picture at Anfield since the summer of 2016 with Jurgen Klopp making it abundantly clear that he is not part of his rebuilding plans.
Crystal Palace brought in Sakho on a short-term loan in January as the club battled against relegation and the 30-year-old’s consistent performances in central defence played a pivotal role in The Eagles securing survival.
A knee ligament injury curtailed his spell at Selhurst Park, but the club hierarchy were optimistic of sealing a permanent deal in the summer.
However, Liverpool have set a £30 million asking price for Sakho and are unwilling to drop their valuation of the player.
Talks have taken place between the two clubs but Crystal Palace are unwilling to invest such a large portion of their transfer budget on one purchase, with new manager Frank de Boer confident that he can recruit up to five players for the same amount of money.
That has prompted the London club to consider alternative options.
Frank de Boer faces a significant rebuilding task as he heads into the start of pre-season with a Crystal Palace squad that only just escaped relegation in the last campaign and has seen a multitude of departures.
The Eagles have released Fraizer Campbell, Joe Ledley, Mathieu Flamini, Jonathan Benteke and Zeki Fryers whilst Mamadou Sakho and Loic Remy have returned to their parent clubs following the conclusion of their loan deals.
This has left the current squad looking short of quality and strength in depth with de Boer, although keen to assess the players that he has inherited before dipping into the transfer market, aware that he will have to bring in a host of new faces. With a deal for Sakho looking increasingly unlikely the Dutch coach is looking to widen the search for reinforcements.
The Guardian are suggesting that Ajax defensive pair Joel Veltman and Kenny Tete have been earmarked by de Boer as potential defensive targets as he attempts to construct a more youthful team.
De Boer handed Veltman his first team debut at Ajax five years ago after promoting him from the club’s youth academy and is confident that his existing reputation with the player will help to finalise a potential deal.
The 25-year-old defender, who is equally as capable playing as a fullback or central defender, has made 17 appearances for Dutch national team whilst his performances have attracted the interest of a number of high-profile clubs, including Tottenham Hotspur, as reported by the Standard.
His current contract is due to expire at the end of the season and Ajax are expected to cash-in to avoid losing Veltman for free in twelve months’ time.
Meanwhile, Tete has been granted permission to miss Ajax’s pre-season training camp in Austria to hold talks with other clubs regarding a potential transfer. The 21-year-old has cemented his place as one of Holland’s brightest, young attacking fullbacks and has already made six appearances for the Dutch national team.
De Boer also handed Tete his first team debut whilst manager at Ajax.
Is a move likely?
Frank de Boer is keen to build a team based on youth, energy and enthusiasm at Crystal Palace and it appears that he will continue his philosophy of buying and developing talent rather than investing heavily in experienced, big-name players.
The club’s decision to pull out of negotiations for Mamadou Sakho suggests that their new Dutch manager believes that he can get better value for money elsewhere, with Joel Veltman and Kenny Tete at the top of his wish-list.
Both players are being courted by a number of clubs across Europe but de Boer is confident that his existing relationship with the pair can convince them to move to Selhurst Park. The Dutchman handed Veltman and Tete their first team debuts whilst managing Ajax and is fully aware of their ability and potential.
The pair are expected to depart Ajax during the summer with Tete being granted permission to talk to other clubs whilst Veltman has less than one year remaining on his current deal. Crystal Palace believe that they can secure their signatures for around £10 million and believe that this would be a much more effective investment when compared to the £30 million that Liverpool are demanding for Sakho.
The real challenge for de Boer would be to convince Veltman and Tete to join Crystal Palace rather than a more glamorous European club.
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Can Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez replace the goals of Romelu Lukaku for Everton?
It is believed that Everton are close to securing the transfers of two of Europe’s most promising attacking talents. The Guardian have reported that a deal for Malaga striker Sandro Ramirez is close to completion after the 21-year-old arrived in Liverpool at the weekend for talks.
The ex-Barcelona forward was wanted by Spanish giants Atletico Madrid. However, Everton look set to benefit from the transfer ban recently handed to Diego Simeone’s side. The Toffees are also fortunate that Ramirez has a release clause in his contract of just €6 million – a fraction of what they hope to recoup from the sale of Romelu Lukaku.
Given the impending departure of the Belgian – who is yet to announce his next club – and the release of Arouna Kone, it is no surprise that Everton are trying to secure the Spaniard’s services.
Lukaku will leave behind an enormous, 25 goal shaped hole in Ronald Koeman’s attack – around 40% of their league goals last season. Yet Ramirez, who turns 22 next month, looks capable of replacing a sizeable chunk of that return.
In his first, and what looks set to be his only season with Malaga, he netted 16 times in 31 appearances, scoring once every 165 minutes in La Liga. The man he is due to replace needed just 130 minutes per goal.
If Ramirez can replicate those numbers in the Premier League then he will be a bargain. At Malaga, he performed within a mid-table side who are less competitive than Everton are in England and found the net against Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, whilst showing off his varied abilities. 14 La Liga goals included superb free-kicks, long-range drives, headers and impressive solo efforts.
The other player potentially heading for Goodison Park is Ajax captain Davy Klaassen. At just 24 years of age, the playmaker has won Eredivisie titles, led his side to a Europa League final and was directly involved in 32 goals over 50 appearances last campaign (20 goals 12 assists).
Having been at the club since 2004 and rising through Ajax’s famed youth system, the attacking midfielder holds a much higher price tag of around £26 million – according to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. The paper has reported that the two clubs are in talks over a deal.
Everton have been unable to resolve the ongoing contract situation with Ross Barkley who has stalled on signing the offered extension. Klaassen would be a worthy replacement for the Englishman if he should depart.
As seen in the past, signing players from the Netherlands can be risky – Vincent Janssen and Luis Suarez provide perfect examples of the hit and miss nature. Klaassen has the advantage of recent international caps, scoring four in 14 for Oranje, but his productivity rate for Ajax saw a notable decline in European football compared to his Eredivisie form – in the Europa League, he needed three times the number of minutes per goal.
However, Koeman scouted his compatriot frequently throughout the season and has a respectable record with transfers – he will know what to expect.
With Everton holding out for £100 million for Lukaku, as talkSPORT reported, spending less than a third of it on Ramirez and Klaassen would be smart business. The transfers would assist in rebuilding from the loss of their best player and allow funds for further acquisitions.
Koeman could build a more complete squad, ensuring the Toffees are not dependent on a single player. improving the side’s depth will be crucial considering the club’s return to the Europa League.
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Three Ajax men that could cause problems for Manchester United in Stockholm
Manchester United and Ajax will lock horns in Stockholm on Wednesday evening with both sides looking to end their long and eventful seasons with success in the Europa League final.
Jose Mourinho’s side will be looking to complete their trophy cabinet with the one piece of silverware that’s proved elusive in the club’s history, and will no doubt go all out to claim victory.
On the other hand, the Dutch side will be appearing in a European final for the first time since their Champions League appearance 20 years ago and will be hoping their young side come out on top.
See below for three players that could crash Manchester United’s Europa League party in Stockholm…
One of the eldest and most experience players in the Ajax ranks is forward Davy Klaassen, a man who has been influential in their challenge on both a domestic and European front this season.
The Ajax captain has notched nine goals in the Dutch league this season, adding 14 assists to that tally, and has been at the forefront of any attacking play that Ajax have produced this season.
The 24-year-old is prolific in front of goal – there is no other word for it – and his instincts to be in the right place at the right time inside the area will make him a huge threat on Wednesday night.
But it’s not just his goal-scoring traits that leaves him a threat, as he’s created as many chances (58) this season as shots he’s had (60) in the Eredivisie and it’s this versatility that leaves him dangerous.
With Manchester United’s key man Eric Bailly ruled out through suspension, Klaassen will be licking his lips at an experimental United back four and will be looking to exploit any weaknesses.
The young Ajax man has really hit the headlines in his debut season at the Dutch side this year, bursting on to the scene after being scouted by the man who found a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
At just 19-years-old the Danish forward has scored 16 goals in the league this year, showing an exceptional ability with both feet and having a turn of pace that could give defenders nightmares.
The quality of his performances this year has seen him become almost undroppable in the Ajax side, and is just reward when considering he hit an 18-minute hat-trick in just his third month in the team.
Dolberg possesses a composure that is almost uncommon for somebody of his age, having a level head in front of goal to stay cool and stick the ball in the net – and Sergio Romero should stay wary.
It could certainly turn into a battle of the 19-year-olds forwards in Stockholm between Dolberg and Marcus Rashford, with both having the raw talent needed to spur their side on to a huge victory.
Currently on-loan from Manchester United’s Premier League rivals Chelsea, Betrand Traore has suddenly started thriving at the Dutch side in recent months.
Given few chances at Stamford Bridge under first Jose Mourinho and now Antonio Conte, the 21-year-old has hit 13 goals in 36 matches this season and has impressed in a role on the Ajax wings.
His passing in the final third has improved substantially under the excellent coaching in Holland – ably helped by Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp – and his intelligence on the football field has also developed well in the space of ten months, now knowing the right time to run in behind a defence.
His pace will always cause problems for any back-line, and there’s no doubt that Traore has the brute strength to back this up; now it’s a case of using it to good effect in a massive game for Ajax.
It was his brace in the semi-final first-leg against Lyon that put Ajax firmly in the driving seat to reach the final, and Manchester United would do well to keep a careful eye on the youngster in Stockholm.
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