Three diminutive forwards. In the same team. Can they play together or more precisely, gel together? Well, it is not so straightforward. When Neymar signed for Barcelona in the summer of 2013, the question on everyone’s lips was can he play and flourish alongside Messi. His debut season was of sorts but fast forward 12 months and he is finally hitting his stride and excelling in his role as a left sided forward. With 17 goals already, the stats speak for themselves. So when Suarez signed, a similar (if not exact ) question arose – can all three play and flourish in the same team?
Messi is the archetype ‘false 9’ – a role that allows him to roam and drop deep during build up and still be the focal point of the attack. Neymar is predominantly a left sided winger cum forward. It is the position he is most comfortable in for both club and country. Suarez is a relentless forward in every sense of the word. He is a prolific scorer but he is also very versatile.
Logic dictates that all three should have no problem playing alongside each other however it goes without saying that the game of football is all about finding space – space is everything. All three players are – whichever way you want to look at it – diminutive tricky forwards who have proven to be prolific in front of goal. There is a high possibility that fielding all three players means will result in them occupying the same space and disrupting the team balance.
Why it can work
Barca circa 2009 had a similar situation – could Guardiola fit Eo’o, Henry and Messi in the same side and more importantly will they buy into way his way of high pressing and ball possession ethos? The answer was a resounding yes. At the time Eto’o was in his absolute prime, Henry was still evergreen and Messi was just unleashed onto the world stage. Not only were they able to play together, all three were prolific in front of goal – Eto’o scored 36, Messi 38 and Henry 26.
With the current side, it is quite clear that all three are at their absolute best when they are the focal point of attack and are given a free role. However this luxury will not be given when they are playing together. Formation wise, Barcelona don’t sway much from a 4-3-3 and also logically, this formation is the ideal one to use which can easily accommodate all three. Neymar has carved out a specialised role for him in this current formation – a left sided forward who is given license to drift from the wide left and into goal scoring positions. This leaves Messi and Suarez. Which one should play centrally? Messi is at his best when he is played through middle, where he can drop deep and use his guile and skill to influence play. Suarez is also very prolific when played centrally where he can run laterally to the flanks in order to create space. The answer is to alternate and use their versatility to the team’s advantage.