They’re magical, magnificent and worth millions, but which Spanish colossus can boast the most fearsome front line? Ahead of the new La Liga season it’s a hot topic that is being discussed the world over.
Numbers don’t mean everything, but a quick peek at how each of the superstar six performed in league football last season tells its own story – together they are the most valuable attacks the game has ever seen. Together they are every defender’s worst nightmare. Together they are guaranteed to create carnage in the months ahead.
Even the world’s greatest strikers rely on service too.
So, in the context of this debate, you also have to consider the quality of the midfielders who are playing behind them.
While Barcelona have sold two creators this summer (Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez), spending big on Luis Suarez instead, it’s Real Madrid who have concentrated hardest in that area of the side.
Because of that, when their team sheet was delivered to Sevilla’s dressing room ahead of this week’s UEFA Super Cup Final, I’d hazard a guess that it was greeted with a sharp intake of breath, followed by a fit of awkward, nervous laughter.
Everyone knew Bayern Munich playmaker Toni Kroos (£25m) and World Cup star James Rodriguez (£70m) would boost the ten-time European champions, but until Carlo Ancelotti actually scribbled his best XI onto that sheet of paper, it still didn’t feel completely real. Surely he couldn’t squeeze so much firepower into one gorgeous, frighteningly potent XI? It seemed too much to ask.
And yet, happily pleasing the fantasists, the Italian shrugged his shoulders and said “no problem,” bringing dreams to life with a front six that read (almost mythically) Kroos, Modric, Rodriguez, Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema.
Sevilla were beaten before a ball had even been kicked.
And they won’t be the only opponents intimidated by the Real line-up this season either. Barcelona might even be worried.
Okay, the Catalans can boast a virtually priceless front three of their own in Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, but right now they’re still odds against to win La Liga in 2014/2015. It will rankle that so many punters believe their El Clasico rivals are stronger.
Not that new coach Luis Enrique will be fretting too much. If you add up all of the goals (68), assists (31) and chances created (203) by his megastar trio in the league last term, and compare it with Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo’s own staggering productivity in 2013/2014, his boys are still out in front in each department.
Barcelona’s gifted attack might just be the most individually talented that club football has ever seen.
But there is more to winning matches than natural ability and stats. Successful teams also need players who are compatible with one another, and it’s here that Real Madrid has a distinct advantage, as we know they blend well together.
Softening up defenders with his physical presence, the less technically gifted Benzema is the ideal foil for Bale and Ronaldo’s explosive power, pace and panache.
Combined, the trio are the most dynamic forward line in the world.
The prospect of Kroos and Rodriguez providing extra fuel from the rear this season is a nightmarish prospect for defenders.
Over at the Nou Camp (in spite of their unlimited potential) nobody knows how Neymar, Messi and Suarez will gel. Brazil’s golden boy Neymar looked lost for much of last season, stranded on the left wing and appearing uneasy with his supporting role status. Plus, playing with Lionel Messi is something which Suarez must adapt to as well. While bursting inside from the right won’t trouble the Uruguayan, playing second fiddle to the world’s best player could disturb his mojo.
As sensational and unselfish as the Argentinean is, his presence will always ensure he is the man the rest of the players instinctively look to feed. This, at times makes them more predictable opponents than Real.
Against the minnows, I predict Barcelona will run amok (how couldn’t they?), but it’s how they fare against the fellow big boys that will define their season. Are the three superstars willing to work together to unlock better defenses, or will we see a bunch of individuals selfishly jostling for top billing? Those are the great unknowns.
Player for player, Barcelona has three forwards I’d put in the world top five.
While on the other hand, Cristiano Ronaldo would be the only one to feature from Carlo Ancelotti’s side. And yet – for me anyway – it’s Real Madrid who boast the scariest attack.
With a new-look supply line to die for, and a proven record of working together as one fluid, destructive, goal scoring machine, I’d back the Champions League winners to outscore Barcelona this year.
In 2013/2014 they notched an astonishing 104 league goals in 38 games – the most of any side in Europe’s major divisions. That, I suspect, was only a warm up though. This season they’re capable of plenty more.