La Liga

Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: Which Front 3 Is Superior After Luis Suarez Transfer?

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 19:  Luis Suarez of Uruguay celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Uruguay and England at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 19, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2014

For the second year running, La Liga's giants have captured the finest player of the previous Premier League season, with Luis Suarez's move to Barcelona following Gareth Bale's switch to Real Madrid 12 months earlier. 

In conjunction with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, Bale helped Los Blancos to become the most powerful attacking team in Europe in 2013-14, scoring a continent-best 104 league goals last season.

Forming a fluid front three, the dynamic trio overwhelmed their opponents like no other forward combination in football, propelling Real Madrid to the capture of La Decima—a 10th European crown—that included a spectacular annihilation of defending champions, Bayern Munich. 

However, after an underwhelming campaign in 2013-14, Madrid's fiercest rivals, Barcelona, have added Luis Suarez to a front three that already includes Lionel Messi and Neymar, looking to reclaim superiority in La Liga and across Europe. 

So, with the addition of Suarez, which attacking trio is superior? 

Below, we take a look.

 

Productivity

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 23:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's third goal as Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid looks dejected during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Bernabeu on March 23, 2014 in Madrid,
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

From a pure numbers perspective, Barcelona's capture of the former Liverpool sensation gives La Blaugrana a slight edge over their rivals from the Spanish capital.

In all departments—goals, assists and chances created—the new front three belonging to the Catalan club were collectively superior domestically in 2013-14. 

League Performance in 2013-14
BarcelonaGoalsAssistsChances Created
Luis Suarez311287
Lionel Messi281175
Neymar9841
TOTAL6831203
Real MadridGoalsAssistsChances Created
Cristiano Ronaldo31947
Karim Benzema17963
Gareth Bale151240
TOTAL6330150
WhoScored.com and Squawka

Of course, the acquisition of Suarez will undoubtedly make Barcelona more potent in attack than they were last season, but it must be acknowledged that raw numbers don't tell the whole story in this case.

Indeed, Suarez's blistering campaign at Anfield was due to Brendan Rodgers' moulding of his team around the striker as much as it was to the player's undeniable brilliance. 

That won't be the case at the Camp Nou. 

With Messi occupying the central role and Neymar giving assistance on the left, the Uruguayan is likely to be forced on the right wing, meaning he'll no longer enjoy being the focal point of the XI. That should, in theory, see Suarez's numbers fall more in line with those belonging to Bale in 2013-14, who also switched from an expansive roaming role at Tottenham to a position on the flank with Real Madrid.

 

Cohesion

Perhaps the finest quality of the Ronaldo-Bale-Benzema combination in Madrid last season was the trio's beautiful chemistry. 

As a traditional centre-forward, Benzema—while technically inferior to the club's Galacticos—proved to be the perfect foil for his attacking counterparts, occupying defenders with his physical presence before combining sumptuously with his explosive teammates on either side.

With two of the most devastating athletes in the game surrounding him, the Frenchman became something of a fulcrum for Carlo Ancelotti's side, using his sublime layoff and interplay skills to allow Ronaldo and Bale to fluidly operate from side to side.

The end result was sparkling: Benzema quietly operated as the team's glue, helping to connect everything Real Madrid did, providing the platform for the Portuguese and Welshman to physically engulf opposing back fours. 

So how will it work for Suarez alongside Messi and Neymar?

Sometimes forgotten when examining the Uruguayan's goal tally for Liverpool last season is the fact that Suarez is brilliant in attack even when he's not scoring. While often recognised as overly audacious, Barcelona's incoming star made more league assists (12) and created more chances (87) than Messi did for his teammates in 2013-14 (11 and 75, respectively).

Superb around the edge of the penalty area, Suarez's affinity for one-twos will provide Messi with a lethal counterpart in attack, capable of cutting apart any defence in Europe.

But how long will it take for the controversial striker to blend with his new teammates?

 

The Suarez Ban

NATAL, BRAZIL - JUNE 24:  Luis Suarez of Uruguay and Giorgio Chiellini of Italy react after a clash during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Italy and Uruguay at Estadio das Dunas on June 24, 2014 in Natal, Brazil.  (Photo by Matthias H
Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

While Barcelona are positive that the length of Suarez's ban will be reduced, as confirmed on the club's official website (h/t ESPN.co.uk), the Uruguayan's current predicament means he'll be unable to both play and train with Messi, Neymar and Co. for the crucial opening months of the 2014-15 season.

Using Bale's 2013-14 campaign as an example, that should present problems for the striker and his new club.

Aside from a hat-trick against Valladolid in November, the bulk of the Welshman's brightest performances arrived in the second half of the season once he'd regained fitness and developed a familiarity with Ronaldo and Benzema in particular. 

Lamentably, Suarez won't get the chance to develop a working relationship with Barcelona's superstars until nearly 10 La Liga matches have passed in the upcoming season.

Certainly, the former Liverpool phenomenon possesses the precocious talent to adapt quickly, but like Bale, there will be an adjustment phase for Suarez that will only be made more difficult by his early season absence.

 

Arrival of James Rodriguez in Madrid?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 28:  James Rodriguez of Colombia celebrates scoring his team's second goal and his second of the game during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at Maracana on June 28, 2014 in Rio de
Clive Rose/Getty Images

If reports from Marca are to be believed, Colombia's World Cup hero James Rodriguez could soon be on his way to the Bernabeu, with Monaco prepared to open negotiations for the 23-year-old. 

While a deal is far from certain, the possibility of the Colombian's arrival adds another dynamic to the attacking comparison between Real Madrid and Barcelona. 

As a talented No. 10, Rodriguez would provide Ancelotti with yet another avenue going forward, excelling primarily behind the striker but also capable of playing on either wing.

However, slotting the World Cup star into Madrid's current XI could require some tinkering with the team's preferred 4-3-3 formation, given that Rodriguez fits more naturally into the central role of a 4-2-3-1. 

With Xabi Alonso, Angel di Maria, Isco, Asier Illarramendi, Luka Modric, Sami Khedira and—possibly Toni Kroos—all potentially available as midfield options, Ancelotti might need to experiment with his use of Rodriguez—provided the deal happens—to develop the most balanced blend. 

Like Suarez's transition, that could take time. 

 

Verdict

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 09:  Karim Benzema (2ndL) celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates Cristiano Ronaldo (2ndR), Gareth Bale (R) and Alvaro Arbeloa (L) during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol  at Estadio
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

For the upcoming La Liga season, it's logical to think that Real Madrid's front three will prove more effective than that of Barcelona, primarily due to the trio's unrivalled chemistry.

With Ronaldo still enjoying his peak years and Bale set to improve on his debut campaign in Madrid, it's difficult to envisage any attacking squadron out-gunning the one in the Spanish capital in 2014-15.

However, when Suarez's ban concludes, the battle will become truly engrossing.

Adding a player possessing the attacking genius of the Uruguayan can only increase Barcelona's potency, particularly when one considers how devastating the interplay between he and Messi could be.

However, developing that cohesion will take time.

Thus, Real Madrid should enjoy the attacking advantage over their rivals in 2014-15, but La Blaugrana could even the ledger once Suarez's integration in Barcelona is complete. 

 

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com and Squawka.

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