The best front-three attacks of the 21st century ranked
Attacking trios are tremendously en vogue right now, steadily replacing the “strike partnership” in footballing consciousness.
The rise of 4-3-3 in the wake of Pep Guardiola’s 2008 revolution has led to the trio becoming more relevant than the duo. Obviously there are still plenty of sides that persist with 4-2-3-1 or a two-man strikeforce, and plenty of thrilling sides operated in different tactical set-ups, but the big thing right now is a “trident.”
But which trident is best? Which front three plays the best football? Who wins the most trophies? Which is the most thrilling? We here at Squawka considered all these factors to come up with a top 10 ranking for club football in the 21st century. Who falls where? Read on and find out!
10. Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba and Damien Duff
Years together: 2004-2006
Trophies won: 2004/05 League Cup, Premier League (2), 2005 Community Shield
This trio often goes forgotten by the masses because Chelsea’s successes are often put down to the defensive excellence established by José Mourinho and the dynamic goalscoring of Frank Lampard. But this front three was essential to establishing Chelsea as a force to be reckoned with in England and Europe. Robben and Duff were blindingly direct and Drogba was such a combination of physical power and technical finesse that many European heavyweights were unable to cope.
9. Leo Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho
Years together: 2004-2007
Trophies won: La Liga (2), 2005/06 UEFA Champions League, Supercopa de España (2)
Barcelona bounced back from years in the wildnerness with this spectacular trio of forwards. Ronaldinho was the sorcerer supreme, an untouchable genius whose every touch dripped with magic. Samuel Eto’o was a lethal forward, quick as anything alive with precision technique and a lust for big game performances. And Leo Messi was the (injury-prone) burgeoning young talent who supercharged the trident and side.
8. Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo
Years together: 2004-2005
Trophies won: n/a
These three didn’t play in a 4-3-3 but rather a distinctly Italian 4-3-1-2, and they only played together for one season, winning no trophies. But the football they played together was utterly mesmeric. Milan were an unstoppable force that season, ripping through team after team before inexplicably losing the Champions League despite being 3-0 up with half an hour to play. That failure knocks them down.
7. Arjen Robben, Mario Mandzukic and Franck Ribery
Club: Bayern Munich
Years together: 2012-2014
Trophies won: 2012 DFL Supercup, Bundesliga (2), DFB-Pokal (2), 2012/13 UEFA Champions League
Having done a “Leverkusen Treble” the previous season, Bayern added workhorse powerhouse Mandzukic to their Robbery wing duo and suddenly exploded to life. This trio was a thrusting spear at the head of Bayern’s side, pummeling opponents with skill and physicality as they won the German side an incredible Treble. Their influence wasn’t as great in the second season under Pep Guardiola but they still managed to retain their domestic double.
6. Shinji Kagawa, Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Years together: 2010-2012
Trophies won: Bundesliga (2), 2011/12 DFB-Pokal
People remember Dortmund’s “other” trident with Marco Reus, but while that side was good the one before it was a more expansive, more joyous unit. With Shinji Kagawa and Mario Gotze pulling the strings behind the riotous Robert Lewandowski, Dortmund shook Germany to pieces by not only taking the Bundesliga off Bayern but then retaining it inspite of a Bayern challenge in 2011/12. Their finest moment was unquestionably their last: thrashing Bayern 5-2 in the 2012 DFB-Pokal final.
5. Leo Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry
Years together: 2007-2009
Trophies won: 2008/09 Copa del Rey, 2008/o9 La Liga, 2007/09 UEFA Champions League
Barcelona’s affinity with 4-3-3 will always see them feature heavily in a list about front threes. And who could doubt their Treble titans? The seeds of this trio’s excellence could be seen in an injury-stricken 2007/08, but once Pep Guardiola took over they took off and blitzed opponents making Barcelona the greatest team in the world, changing football’s paradigms at the same time. Eto’o’s departure and Henry’s decline meant this trio only truly shone for one season, but what a season!
4. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo
Club: Real Madrid
Years together: 2013-present
Trophies won: 2013/14 Copa del Rey, UEFA Champions League (3), UEFA Super Cup (2), FIFA Club World Cup (2), 2016/17 La Liga
No trio has won as many Champions Leagues as the B-B-C. Signed as an answer to Barcelona’s M-V-P, the front three used their individual excellence to bulldoze opponents. In their first season they won a cup double with Gareth Bale scoring crucial goals in both finals.
In 2016 Bale guided them to another Champions League final that they won on penalties; then in 2016/17 they were part of a Madrid side that did the impossible and retained the Champions League. The only reason they’re not higher is that their work as a trio peaked in 2014. Since then they have won trophies, but mostly as a result of Madrid’s squad as a whole (injury-prone Bale was a bit-part player in their 2016/17 successes, for instance).
3. Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo
Club: Manchester United
Years together: 2007-2009
Trophies won: Community Shield (2), Premier League (2), 2007/08 UEFA Champions League, 2008 FIFA Club World Cup, 2008/09 League Cup
While Sir Alex Ferguson’s last great Manchester United side was assuredly built on an impossibly strong defence and an excellent midfield as skill at keeping the ball as winning it back, the electricity in the team came from the front three. Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. None of them a true striker or a true winger, yet they worked so well in harmony.
The Portuguese’s thrust and lust for goals complimented so well by Rooney and Tevez’s selfless team-first mentality. A whirling dervish of an attack that we saw all too infrequently in their second season together in 2008/09. But when Sir Alex Ferguson unleashed them, they wrought true havoc on opponents and powered United to within one win of a second consecutive European Double.
2. Leo Messi, Pedro and David Villa
Years together: 2010-2013
Trophies won: Supercopa de España (2), La Liga (2), 2010/11 UEFA Champions League
The phenomenal front-line of the best team in the world. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona arguably played their most harmonic football between 2010 and 2012 and it was this trio up-front that was responsible for most of it.
With Messi as a false nine dropping deep to engage with midfield, star striker David Villa could peel in from his left-wing position to devastate opponents with his lethal finishing. Pedro was a perfect off-the-ball workhorse and his finishing ability and composure made him a lethal third scoring option as he took advantage of getting open looks due to the calibre of his team-mates.
The only thing that held this unit back was David Villa’s injury in 2011. The Spaniard broke his leg, which forced Guardiola to adapt his formation. Without Villa, Barça surrendered La Liga and failed hilariously in the Champions League. With Villa back the following season they regained La Liga with an incredible 100 point Title win (before the veteran took his title-winning skills to Atlético Madrid).
1. Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar
Years together: 2014-2017
Trophies won: La Liga (2), Copa del Rey (3), 2014/15 UEFA Champions League, 2015 UEFA Super Cup, 2015 FIFA Club World Cup, 2016 Supercopa de España
The gold standard. An absolutely ruthless trio of talents the likes of which we may never see unite again. Having three players this good play this well together and enjoy the hell out of doing so should be impossible. Each of this triumphant threesome is equal parts selfish and selfless, and their styles are so bafflingly complimentary you’d swear this was fantasy football.
In their time together they won three consecutive Copas del Rey, two consecutive domestic doubles (no one had done that in Spain since the 1950’s) and who could forget the historic Treble in 2014/15? They’d have probably won more if not for the rigours of transatlantic travel making each international window an extreme fatigue-inducing affair which caught up with them in Spring of their second two seasons.
3 seasons 🗓
364 goals ⚽️
173 assists 🅰️
The end of an incredible era for MSN. 😢 pic.twitter.com/R2lM7w4AEx
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 3, 2017
On the field they absolutely dazzled us. Over three hundred and fifty goals and nearly two hundred assists between the three of them. Their play was almost symbiotic – it’s hard to imagine you could do better than this three even with a combined trio of every other trio on this list.
It was just a perfect harmony. Messi the orchestrating force, perceptive playmaker, devastating dribbler and superhuman scorer. Suárez the goal and assist machine – a hurricane of movement and work whose selfless approach paradoxically led to him scoring an incredible amount.
And Neymar the dazzling dribbler and young maverick whose departure ended this terrific trio’s era of dominance with an abrupt and disappointing stop. Now we’ll never get to see how this unbelievable unit could have evolved; but a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It was a privilege to watch them.