Football Features

Ranked: The best front threes in the Champions League last 16

By Squawka News

Published: 19:30, 14 February 2022

Attacking units in football come in many different shapes, but the most enigmatic of those is the front three.

The strike partnership is full of old-school traditionalism, a front four is wild and unwieldy, but the front three is the perfect blend of chaos and order. Attacking trios have marked this century’s game, from the now-mythic Three Rs from Brazil’s 2002 World Cup win to the instantly iconic M-S-N of Barcelona’s 2015 Treble triumph.

We’ve had a look this season’s Champions League last 16 teams and come up with what we think are the best front threes. This is based on individual quality, attacking production, overall chemistry and actually playing in a front three.

Disagree with any of our picks? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!

8. Kai Havertz, Romelu Lukaku and Mason Mount

Club: Chelsea
League goals + assists this season: 21

At the start of the season, everyone was excited about the arrival of Romelu Lukaku and how it would complete Chelsea’s formidable front three. But things are still waiting to click. Lukaku is Chelsea’s top scorer across all competitions with 10 goals, reaching double figures with the opening strike in the Club World Cup final but the Belgian has struggled with injuries, confidence, and that interview.

There’s also the fact that Tuchel has been rotating his supporting players, with Kai Havertz and Mason Mount arguably the best two when everybody is fit. With increased game time alongside each other, this front three should work with Mount and Havertz benefiting from playing with a reference point like Lukaku.

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7. Paulo Dybala, Dusan Vlahovic and Alvaro Morata

Club: Juventus
League goals + assists this season: 41

This front three may have been crafted just a few weeks ago but it’s already a dangerous one, with three individual stars creating a frightening trident. Dusan Vlahovic was one of the hottest strikers in the winter transfer window after his stellar first half of the campaign at Fiorentina and he made a dream debut for Juventus, netting in the 2-0 win over Hellas Verona. The Serbian has 18 goals in Serie A overall, 11 more than Paulo Dybala – his closest rival in this trio.

But Dybala has found form once again this season, directly involved in 12 goals and Alvaro Morata hasn’t done too badly either, scoring five and recording four assists despite the constant criticism he seems to come under and doubts surrounding his future. The only thing keeping this trio from being higher is the fact that they have played just three games together.

6. Antony, Sebastien Haller and Dusan Tadic

Club: Ajax
League goals + assists this season: 53

Ajax have been absolutely destroying the Eredivisie this season, scoring 69 goals in just 22 matches. They also destroyed their Champions League group, one of three teams to finish perfect with six wins, scoring 20 goals in victories over Sporting CP, Borussia Dortmund and Besiktas. The main story of the season has been Sebastian Haller, who leads the Eredivisie for goals, netting 16 so far while also scoring 10 in the Champions League group stage.

The Ivorian has been fantastic in Amsterdam since joining from West Ham but he isn’t alone. Dusan Tadic is also thriving post-Premier League and has been directly involved in 22 goals in the Eredivisie this season, scoring seven while recording an impressive 15 assists. Antony completes the trio with a decent return of seven goals, providing good coverage.

5. Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling

Club: Manchester City
League goals + assists this season: 31

Pep Guardiola’s love of rotation make it impossible to nail down a set front three. This could just as easily been Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus and Jack Grealish. No City trio is really that fearsome by themselves, it’s the way they function in concert with the midfield and defence that make them so good. They sometimes miss having a genuine goalscorer, but when they’re “on” no one can touch Manchester City.

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4. Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior

Club: Real Madrid
League goals + assists this season: 47

Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard are the two other big names in attack at the Santiago Bernabeu but they’ve been such underperforming misfits that their place has been taken by Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio. Asensio is definitely the support man of the group, the one that can easily be interchanged, but he has performed well under Carlo Ancelotti with six goals in La Liga so far. Vinicius (or Vini, as he likes to be called) is an almost superhuman dribbler who thanks to Carlo Ancelotti is actually starting to score goals now and has 12 in La Liga this season, more than he had managed in his previous three seasons combined.

The main event in Madrid, however, is one Karim Benzema. With a ridiculous 17 goals and seven assists in the league alone this season, the French forward is in obscene form right now and is leading Los Blancos with seemingly a goal or assist every other game.

3. Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar

Club: PSG
League goals + assists this season: 36

Lionel Messi is king of the attacking trio. He’s been in more great front threes than 99% of players have been in great teams. And after Barcelona botched their finances so badly that he couldn’t stay, the Argentine took his talents to Paris and instantly formed the best front three in the world with former team-mate Neymar and the French golden child Kylian Mbappé. But form has dropped them down.

Let’s start with Messi. The Ballon d’Or winner has really struggled for goals in Ligue 1, netting just twice, though he has managed five in the Champions League. The assists have been better, recording seven across the Ligue 1 campaign, but again we expect so much from him that these numbers look poor – and they are compared to some of the others on this list.

It’s the same for Neymar, who has scored three league goals and recorded three league assists in a campaign plagued by injury. Mbappé is the only one holding this trio up with 12 goals and nine assists in Ligue 1, second in total for the former and first for the latter. But of course, it’s Messi, Neymar and Mbappé so the quality can always shine and you don’t want to sleep on them.

2. Leroy Sane, Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry

Club: Bayern Munich
League goals + assists this season: 53

Robert Lewandowski is the best striker in the world and The Best Men’s Player, so it’s no surprise that he is part of one of the top front threes. Now, Bayern’s system does mean that they can operate as a front four at times, bringing in Thomas Muller, but the three alone is good enough.

Lewandowski is once again dominating the Bundesliga top scorers chart with 26 goals so far and he’s added a further nine in the Champions League, helping Bayern finish their group perfect after six games. But he isn’t alone. Leroy Sane has stepped up to the plate this season with 13 goal contributions in the league, scoring six and providing seven assists, playing on either the left or right flank. And Serge Gnabry completes the set.

The German continues to grow as one of the top left-midfielders in the world and has already hit 10 league goals for the season to combine with his three assists. When Gnabry, Lewandowski and Sane are on form, there’s not much opposition defences can do to stop them.

But there’s one trio better…

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1. Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota and Sadio Mané

Club: Liverpool
League goals + assists this season: 47

Mohamed Salah is absolutely world-class and in terms of his form is among the three best players in the world right now. Throw in a rejuvenated Sadio Mané and the fantastic Diogo Jota and what you have is a front three that can still wreck any team it comes across as we have seen so far this season. Liverpool’s ropey defence is being covered for by their fearsome attacking trio, who have scored 36 goals in the Premier League combined this season. It feels like a risky strategy, but this front three are back in the saddle and honestly, how can you not put the team on their backs?