ANALYSIS: The three South American forwards are just two goals from the 99 netted by Leo, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o in Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge
Ninety-seven and counting. Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez are closing in on 100 goals for Barcelona in 2014-15 and are just two off the number netted by the club’s fantastic forward line under Pep Guardiola in 2008-09, when the Argentine attacker played alongside Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o.
Messi started that season on the right and scored 38 goals in 51 appearances, with Eto’o on target 36 times in 52 games and Henry not too far behind with 26 in his 42 matches for the Catalan club en route to a treble of Liga, Copa and Champions League titles.
And even though the Argentine netted 73 times in 60 appearances in Guardiola’s final season (2011-12) to make a total of 103 goals with Alexis Sanchez (15 in 41) and Cesc Fabregas (15 in 48), the front three in that campaign was constantly chopped and changed (Pedro also netted 13 in 48) but still largely reliant upon Messi’s magic.
In terms of a fully functional first-choice front line, however, the two best for Barca in recent seasons are the Messi-Eto’o-Henry trident in 2008-09 (with 99) and the Argentine’s association with David Villa and Pedro in 2010-11, which yielded 98 strikes (53 for Leo, 23 for the former Spain striker and 22 for the current Barca winger).
Interestingly, those two teams both won the Champions League – proof perhaps that a balanced front line can help when it comes to breaking down other members of Europe’s elite. That, of course, makes sense and bodes well for the hopes of Luis Enrique’s side in 2014-15.
This term, Messi has 47 in 48 appearances, Neymar 31 in 42 and Suarez (who sat out the first two months after being banned for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup) is on 19 from his 36 games.
“Messi, Suarez and Neymar are doing great – just as they have been all season,” Luis Enrique said on Monday. “They are scoring goals, they give assists and they also help out in defence. I am very happy with them.”
Help in defence has been invaluable at times, but the South American forwards will be judged on goals and one more will see the trio draw level with the MVP trident from 2010-11 and another two will equal the MEH attack from 2008-09. And it is merely a matter of time as Barca still have five league games remaining, at least two and possibly three Champions League clashes, plus the final of the Copa del Rey at the end of May.
The 99 goals in 2008-09 arrived in a combined 145 appearances for Messi, Eto’o and Henry, while Leo, Villa and Pedro needed a total of 160 games to reach 98 in 2010-11. By comparison, the Argentine, Neymar and Suarez have racked up 97 so far this term in 126 matches combined – a far superior strike-rate to either of the previous two.
The total is also better than