Football Features

Ranked: The best front threes in Europe this season

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 21:00, 9 November 2021

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 around Europe this season and come up with what we think are the best front threes this season. This is based on individual quality, attacking production, overall chemistry and, with apologies to Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United, actually playing in a front three.

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

10. Ousmane Dembélé, Memphis Depay and Ansu Fati

Club: Barcelona
League goals + assists since 2020/21: 56

No list of front threes would be complete without a Barcelona entry but they only just made the cut this time. After seventeen years of world-class magnificence, Leo Messi left the club. After two years of underperformance, Antoine Griezmann also left the club. This has left Barcelona with an uncertain future with regards to their front three.

The Blaugrana haven’t started the season well, but with Xavi now installed as head coach and a side packed full of talent, the serious business is about to begin. With regards the front thing, the aim will obviously be for Ousmane Dembélé and the club’s new no. 10 Ansu Fati to return from injury and showcase their incredible abilities alongside new man Memphis Depay.

The Dutchman has started his Barcelona career exuding exactly the kind of authority and ability they’re going to need in order to thrive, meanwhile Ansu has more goals per-90 minutes (0.97) than all but one other forward on this list and Xavi still believes most assuredly in the as-yet-unfulfilled potential of Dembélé and seems intent on getting him to peak. This trio could rocket up this list in time given the potential involved, but for now, they’re fortunate to be 10th.

9. Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish

Club: Manchester City
League goals + assists since 2020/21: 59

Pep Guardiola’s love of rotation make it impossible to nail down a set front three. This could just as easily been Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden. 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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8. Yeremi Pino, Gerard Romero and Arnaut Danjuma

Club: Villarreal
League goals + assists since 2020/21: 69

Villa-Real is about the same size as Macclesfield, so that they can produce a team that has a front three worthy of being on this list is incredible. Injuries and managerial uncertainty have stopped The Yellow Submarine from really firing this season but Gerard Romero scored 30 times last season and Arnaut Danjuma has been a revelation in La Liga, while Yeremi Pino is a bolt of lightning. Once Villarreal get these three on the same page… duck and cover!

7. Kai Havertz, Romelu Lukaku and Mason Mount

Club: Chelsea
League goals + assists since 2020/21: 63

Chelsea’s attack was a hilarious mixture of underperformance, misery and Mason Mount magnificence last season. But with the addition of the monumental Romelu Lukaku, suddenly the Blues have a formidable front three. Thomas Tuchel is charged with forging Lukaku, Mount and Kai Havertz into a devastating attacking unit and it looks a job he is well up for.

In theory both the German and the Englishman will massively benefit from playing with a reference point like Lukaku. The Belgian can do everything you’d ask a No. 9 to do and should unlock the true potential of the hugely expensive Havertz (who did, to be fair, score the Champions League-winning goal last season) and the Thomas Muller-esque link-play and goal-getting of Mason Mount.

6. Josip Ilicic, Duvan Zapata and Ruslan Malinovskyi

Club: Atalanta
League goals + assists since 2020/21: 76

Gian Piero Gasperini has made Atalanta into one of the most deliriously fun teams to watch in all of Europe and their dynamic attack in the 3-4-3 formation is a major reason why. Josip Ilicic is a languid playmaker with an eye for goal, Ruslan Malinovskyi is an energetic playmaker with an eye for goal, and Duvan Zapata is a battering ram of a centre-forward who has an eye for a pass. These three smash everyone in their way and given that they have the ludicrously prolific Luis Muriel (23 goals, 10 assists) as their super-sub goes a long way to explaining why Atalanta keep causing everyone problems.

5. Marco Reus, Erling Haaland and Donyell Malen

Club: Borussia Dortmund
League goals + assists since 2020/21: 92

Borussia Dortmund definitely lost a step when Jadon Sancho left the club but while Marco Reus continues to be a wily veteran presence, Donyell Malen has brought his talents down from PSV and looks very promising. The star of the show here is obviously football’s Eren Jaeger: Erling Haaland. A relentless force of destructive energy that mows down anything in his path (and the only player from these trios to have more goals per-90 than Ansu Fati with 1.1). This trio have an absurd amount of goals and assists, but are ranked outside the top three because they have yet to truly click as a trio.

4. Rodrygo, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior

Club: Real Madrid
League goals + assists since 2020/21: 72

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 two Brazilian wonderkids who are beginning to make good on their immense potential. Rodrygo is a sharpshooter who is showing he also has a creative side, Vinicius Junior (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.

The main event in Madrid, however, is one Karim Benzema. With a ridiculous 33 goals and 16 assists since the start of last season, the French forward is in obscene form right now and is leading Los Blancos with seemingly a goal or assist every game.

3. Lucas Moura, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min

Club: Spurs
League goals + assists since 2020/21: 78

It may seem hilarious to see them placed so high given the current state of things at Spurs, but their front three is ridiculous. Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are among the best in the their position across all of Europe and Lucas Moura is a dribbling machine who adds so much drive to the side, is a superb foil for them.

With Harry Kane confirmed to be staying at Spurs this season, they can field this front three and wreck almost anyone in their path. Kane’s deep passing ability synergises so well with Lucas and Son’s movement and in particular Son’s finishing. With Antonio Conte guiding them and drilling the rest of the side to the point where they can play on a level worthy of this front three, who knows how far they could go?

2. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané

Club: Liverpool
League goals + assists since 2020/21: 89

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 enigmatic Roberto Firmino (who surely won’t go three straight seasons with single digit league goal totals) 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 can also call on Diogo Jota to sub in for Mané or Firmino. 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?

1. Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar

Club: PSG
League goals + assists since 2020/21: 105

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.

Comparisons to the mighty M-S-N are obvious, and while the Parisian trio (M-N-M?) isn’t quite as formidable as the Barcelona trio from half a decade ago, it is still ahead of anything else currently assembled on the planet.

Even at 34, Messi is still the best player in the world. His chemistry with Neymar is instantaneous and effortless, while Mbappé has the same relationship with Neymar. The final piece of the jigsaw is how Mbappé fits with Messi and we have seen in the early months of the season the two of them already share a positive relationship.

The potential of pairing just those two up is terrifying, with Neymar thrown into the mix you are almost lost for words. Of course what’s funny is that they haven’t yet really shone as a trio in Ligue 1, as Mauricio Pochettino struggles to make his team work. But the ability, both individually and collectively, is so great that they can’t be anywhere but first.

Who knows if they’ll win the Champions League, or how they’ll cope with Neymar’s annual February injury, and of course the ethics behind the transfer where PSG have managed to somehow avoid censure by FFP are questionable at best, but if there’s one front three the world is waiting to watch every weekend this season, it’s Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar.

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