Barça's deadly trio are tearing up the rulebook
This trio were never supposed to work. In fact, Neymar and Messi alone were never supposed to work. "Too many ego's", they said, "only one man can be the star - it just won't work". And then Suárez joined the party and all hell broke lose. "Three great players don't make a good partnership". "This isn't the Suárez from Liverpool", they continued. There has been a lot written about these three stars in the past few weeks, the great majority of it untrue, but the superstars had their own way of answering the critics. They were about to blitz one of the best teams in the world. And blitz them is exactly what they did.
Let's face it, judging on individual talent only, we've never seen anything like Messi, Neymar and Suárez. Three players who are arguably in the top 5 players in the world - on form - all in one team. Three players who can change an entire game in the blink of an eye. But collectively, we hadn't quite seen the best of them. It just never quite seemed to click into place. Every time there seemed to be a slight breakthrough, another "crisis" would strike at Barça. But when it really mattered, when the stakes were raised, the trio finally arrived. They arrived in a moment when Barça needed them most. Where the fans were praying for some hope. And hope is exactly what they got, along with some truly magical football.
The Start of Something Special
It all started with Lionel Messi. Who else? The four-time Ballon d'Or winner responded to questions about his future in the only way he knows how. A truly match-winning performance. It was one of those matches where Messi makes you think "How is he doing this?" Of course, it's never surprising when Leo puts on a display of this nature. But after everything that had gone on in the days before the game, you did wonder what sort of Messi would turn up. The answer to that would be, the very best Messi. He was unplayable. A word that's become slightly over-used in the football world, but that perfectly defines Messi last night. Atlético couldn't get close to him. He made one of the best centre back's in the world look clueless. He cut apart the team that had dismantled Real Madrid's "BBC" just days earlier. And ultimately, he once again proved the difference for Barcelona.
It was no surprise that the first goal came from Messi. He came out all guns blazing, and got his reward just 12 minutes in. Messi, playing predominantly from the right hand side, gets played in by Dani Alves. And Leo does the rest. He skips past Godin, like the 6ft 1in defender isn't even there, and cuts the ball back into the box. Suárez can't quite latch onto it, but Neymar smells the danger and makes no mistake from close range. Barça took the early lead, but really that was just the beginning.
It should have been two just minutes later, in a move which defined the performance from this trio last night. It was one of those moments where even the neutral will have been willing the ball to go in. It started once again, with that man Messi. He plays Suárez in down the right side, with the Uruguayan bearing down on the Atléti defence. There was the look of a determined player, anxious to prove himself, hungry for success. That cut and thrust we'd seen at Liverpool. And then there was that genius. Young Giménez approached Suárez, in the hope of closing him down, and then Luis made him wish he was back as school. With one brush of the right boot, Suárez knocked the ball past him and steamrollered into the Atléti penalty area. Then he looked up, and spotted Neymar. Something that isn't always acknowledged when discussing Suárez - his incredible football brain and unselfishness. Neymar was waiting near the far post with Juanfran unsure of who to mark - Suárez or Neymar? In the end it didn't even matter. Luis' ball was so delightful that even if Juanfran had chosen Neymar, he'd have gotten nowhere near it. It was inch-perfect. Agonisingly, Neymar could only put his header wide of the post, but there we several warning signs there for Atléti and every other team in world football. "The trio" were finding their feet.
But of course, the second goal did come. It was always going to. Barça were physically matching Atlético, and technically destroying them. Busquets lofted a long pass towards Messi, Leo took it down (replays show a possible handball) and he was away. If there's one thing you'd want to avoid in football, it's the sight of Lionel Messi bearing down on you. Atléti were frozen, how could they stop him? And this is where things get interesting. This is the first time we've seen the trio actually take full shape. Neymar ran to Messi's right, dragging defenders with him. And Suárez ran into the open space to his left. And Messi had options, and due to these runs, he had time. And the second thing you want to avoid in football, is Messi having time on the ball. Messi delivered the killer pass, and Suárez was in. But this time there was no doubt. There was no sign that he'd miss, you could feel it. And sure enough, he scored. And if the Camp Nou had a roof, there may have been some damage. Everyone went crazy. And I mean everyone. Even neutrals had to admire this. It was a moment of pure football, the moment we'd been waiting for. That special move where everything fell perfectly into place. Barça were back.
Game. Set. Match
Despite Barça's dominance, Atlético did find themselves back in the game after a dubious penalty decision was given against Messi. But even this has it's own story. Each of the front three made tackles inside their own half last night, and that is really telling. Every single player gave their best effort, and fought for the team. Sometimes Messi would track back, sometimes Suárez and other times Neymar. And the same can be said for one dropping deep to receive the ball, they'd all take turns. It was like clockwork. The understanding was growing...
As the game drew to a close, with the match still delicately poised, you felt Barça needed another goal. And with Neymar and Suárez on the scoresheet, there was only one man who was going to complete the scoring. This was some goal, and it was all about the build up play here. In typical Barça style, the play started from the back. Alba wins the ball, pops the ball up to Busquets, who flicks it into the path of his good friend Iniesta. And of course, like a magnet, Iniesta is attracted to the space. He gives it to Neymar, who's more than happy to expose it. He's surrounded by two, but another neat touch, and the ball finds itself at Rakitić's feet. Again, something you don't want to see as a defender is Ivan Rakitić with the ball at his feet, with space ahead of him. He floats the ball instinctively to Suárez - without even taking a touch - and the Uruguay charges down the left with the ball ahead of him. And the counter had begun. Suárez imitates Rakitić and caresses the ball to Messi who's lurking over on the right-hand side. And Leo does the rest. He plucks the ball out of the air, with Rakitić busting a gut to arrive in the area. Then Messi gives it to him, and of course, Rakitić goes for the return ball. It's a real shame it didn't come off, because it would have been a truly mouthwatering move. But it was almost like someone above appreciated it that much, that Leo was given a little reward. The ball rebounded to that magic left foot, and there was only ever going to be one outcome.
Barça won the match in truly emphatic style, but this was about much more than that. This was the start of a certain trio that we're going to be hearing of for many years to come. It was the start of one of those historic moments in football. Every great story needs a beginning, and last night that's exactly what we got. Because I'll repeat, this is just the start.
And as Messi, Neymar and Suárez celebrated Barça's third goal together, you could just hear it... the sound of the record books slowly beginning to open...
Game. Set. Match. Barcelona.