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Commentary

Messi is the star but Suarez is the catalyst for famed attacking trident

If I were picking a combined front three from Barcelona and Real Madrid, who would I leave out from the attacking trio at the Nou Camp to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo and the ridiculous number of goals he scores for Zinedine Zidane's side?

Lionel Messi will not be making way, as I regard him as the greatest footballer of my lifetime.

That means it comes down to a straight choice between Luis Suarez and Neymar, and I would take the Uruguayan over the Brazilian every time.

I am not sure if Suarez is individually better now than the player who almost single-handedly dragged Liverpool so close to the Premier League title in 2014, but he does have better players around him. Not only does he not look out of place in their company, but he has also improved them with his influence.

Strikers rely on getting the ball early and accurately, so that will have helped him. I would suggest he is not playing in such a strong league now.

He (Suarez) ignites the rest because he is willing to take on the biggest, strongest and toughest centre-halves, willing to run in the channels all the time, and willing to take the ball in when he knows he is going to get a slap.

In some games in Spain, Barcelona will roll teams over easier than would be the case in England, but there is no doubt that playing with Andres Iniesta, Neymar and the best player the world has seen will have made Suarez even more effective than he was at Anfield.

He has all the ingredients. Suarez is a workaholic with a fantastic attitude, has super technique, is as brave as a lion and has a predator's instinct.

Arsene Wenger does not need me to tell him about Suarez's attributes, as Arsenal famously made an audacious bid to sign him for £40 million (S$81 million) plus £1 from Liverpool in 2013 before he moved to Barcelona for a fee close to double that amount the following summer.

There is an argument that Barcelona's front three are the best attack we have ever seen.

People will mention Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento at Real Madrid, as they won the first five European Cups, but that was before my time. I'm racking my brain to come up with a better three and I'm struggling.

Napoli had Diego Maradona and Careca, Brazil's centre-forward, playing together when they won Serie A back in 1990. And the great AC Milan team of that era had Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, but they were not all strikers.

In my lifetime, I can safely say that the current Barcelona front three is the scariest that has been assembled. There is no way all three are going to have a bad day in the same match. It's as if they all gee each other along and if somebody does something special, it motivates the others.

Suarez is the catalyst in many respects. Although he is a relatively new guy on the block at Barcelona, he ignites the rest because he is willing to take on the biggest, strongest and toughest centre-halves, willing to run in the channels all the time, and willing to take the ball in when he knows he is going to get a slap.

Arsenal have drawn the hardest opponents they could face at this stage of the Champions League, but if you are going to win this competition, then you are likely to have to face Barcelona at some point.

Arsenal are one of the best teams in the Premier League and have a real chance of winning, but Barcelona have better players, particularly their front three.

Do Arsenal have a chance? An extremely slim one.

Barcelona remain vulnerable in the middle of their defence to good deliveries from corners and free kicks, but you have to get the ball off them first. One obvious route to goal might be a Mesut Oezil free kick to Olivier Giroud's head.

That, along with Petr Cech having a great game, could do it, because Barcelona, like every team, can be beaten on any given night.

Arsenal are going to be forced into defending deep. They will have to spend a lot of time without the ball, which is not something they used to relish.

Yet, we have seen on a few occasions, at Manchester City last season and at home to them this season, and also against Bayern Munich this season, that it just might suit them. They won those matches with very little possession.

We are in February and Barcelona are the clear favourites to win the Champions League right now. If Messi gets an injury, it will be a different picture. That draws them a little closer to Bayern, Real and Paris Saint-Germain. That would be the leveller.

We talk about Suarez being fabulous, and he is, but it is Messi who makes the difference.

THE SUNDAY TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2016, with the headline 'Messi is the star but Suarez is the catalyst for famed attacking trident'. Print Edition | Subscribe