"Superteams" are more common today in professional sports, none more so than in the National Basketball Association. With the Los Angeles Lakers just missing out in forming basketball’s latest version of The Avengers with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard this offseason, European soccer titan Barcelona is on the verge of assembling their own creation of a stacked star-driven squad that could conquer their sport.
In terms of talent, Barcelona already has a roster full of world-class performers playing in one of the most popular sports in Europe. You start with goalkeeper Marc ter Stegen, defenders Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, Clement Lenglet, midfielders Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Arthur Melo and you end with newly-acquired wunderkind Frankie de Jong. However, all the buzz surrounding the Catalans of late has been about what they could look like on the attacking side come next season.
They already have the majestic Lionel Messi and maybe the best striker of this generation in Luis Suarez occupying up front in what was the highest scoring duo (76 combined goals in all club competitions in Europe’s top five leagues) during the 2018-19 season. Imagine if two other elite forwards were to team up with the two South Americans? Well, we are now halfway there, folks.
It’s been widely reported for the last month that Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann will sign with the Catalans this summer on July 1 when his release clause drops from €200 million to €120 million. All signs point to the Frenchman being with the Spanish champions next campaign and in what would be a splendid addition for both parties.
Since his arrival to Atelti in 2014, there was a major onus put on Griezmann to carry the forward line with no kind of structure or identity surrounding him. Playing for a club that is built around keeping a tight shape defensively and piling up clean sheets, the attacking third has simply been abandoned. Griezmann has been left alone on an island to do everything for his side. That he still averaged 26 goals per season (in all club competitions) as the lone proficient attacking threat during five years in Madrid speaks to the caliber player he is.Antoine Griezmann (Photo Credit- Gambling.com)
At Barcelona, the 28-year-old will have a reduced workload playing alongside Messi and Suarez, making the game much easier for him. He will play in a system that is more tailored for his game, putting extreme emphasis on dictating tempo and controlling possession. From that, he’ll have the chance to compete for more trophies season after season.
For the Blaugrana, this move is all about maximizing the last couple great years of Messi. Failing in the Champions League to Liverpool and Roma in demoralizing fashion the last two seasons surely gave the club even more of an incentive to bring in Griezmann. The addition will take some pressure off the Argentine. "Messi-dependence" (Barca’s overreliance on Messi to carry the club) has been thrown around a handful the last two seasons under manager Ernesto Valverde’s non-experimental schemes and pairing Griezmann with Messi, Suarez and possibly countrymate Ousmane Dembele on the pitch is a scintillating thought.
Still, the club wants more firepower and they're targeting PSG forward Neymar in attempt to bring him back to his old roots at the Camp Nou. It would be a stunning return after his previous record-setting deal to head to Paris not long ago.
I fondly remember the MSN days of Messi, Suarez and Neymar at Barcelona and how they just terrorized clubs on a match-to-match basis in a way the soccer universe had never seen before. In three seasons together, the troika combined for 364 goals, 173 assists and won nine trophies. The historic European treble in 2015 created a lifetime of memories that football fans (especially Barca fans) will cherish for a lifetime.The trio of Suarez, Neymar and Messi in their second season together at the 2015 Club World Cup. (FourFourTwo)
For me, there was no greater thrill in sports to watch during that period than Barcelona’s stupefying trio merging forces as one unit. Now just visualize tossing Griezmann in the mix and having all four proven big names together on one field. I think it might be safe to say that a Messi-Neymar-Griezmann-Suarez foursome would be the finest quartet in club football history.
If this comes into fruition, the main question will be “How will all four players line up next to each other?” for the 2019-20 campaign.
Here are three possible formations I believe Barcelona will use and strategically makes sense for the club.
A 4-4-2 formation would accommodate all four stars on the pitch. This lineup is ideal for Barcelona if they want to go all out in the attack. You would see a two-midfielder set with most likely Busquets and newcomer de Jong. Don’t be surprised to see Arthur in place of the older Busquets to pair with the Dutchman in what many believe could be the second coming of the former incredible Xavi-Iniesta midfield combo.
Expect Neymar and Griezmann to be deployed on the wings where they can get to their natural foot on the inside, with Suarez and Messi to work up front. Suarez will lead the line, as Messi will have the freedom to find space and the danger areas in defenses he can exploit.
Messi’s presence alone will draw two to maybe three players in his direction and can serve as a decoy that will allow Neymar and Griezmann to take advantage of one-on-one battles on the outside. It's possible that Messi and Griezmann could switch positions with Messi moving on the right side as a winger and the versatile Griezmann getting paired with Suarez up front.
Although with only two midfielders, Neymar and Griezmann would be expected to drop back to support the midfield in defensive duties, in which Griezmann is used to, having tracked back frequently in the role he played in Atletico’s 4-4-2 system.
Maybe Barca will play in this formation at stretches, but I anticipate this being the least likely setup of the three.
By all accounts, this is the formation that Barcelona historically is accustomed to playing and thriving in. It would be no different with the explosive talent they have on the pitch. The beauty of the 4-3-3 is the mixture of divergent looks one can throw out. Having a quartet this insanely good, along with the speedy, ambidextrous Dembele in the fold (I believe forward Philippe Coutinho will be sold at some point this summer) gives Valverde a plethora of attacking options that no manager in European club football history has ever been blessed with.
In this instance, more so in the most important matches, a front three of Messi, Neymar and Griezmann will be the choice. Suarez will surely make a good number of starts in this setup but because of his gradual decline (by his standards) and age (32), he might be the one to sit along with Dembele.
Neymar will do his playmaking thing on the left wing, as Messi will function on the right and Griezmann plays as a No. 9, as he does an underrated job in making runs behind the backline. Another option is placing Griezmann on the right and putting Messi in the “false nine” role he’s made so famous.
This setup would be an fairly easy transition for all.
In my view, this is the best formation built for the 2020 Barcelona side and the one I’m most excited about.
The back four is strong. You might suggest replacing Nelson Semedo in place of Sergi Roberto at right back or throwing Lenglet at one of the centerback spots but overall, it works. This option would force Barca to sacrifice a midfielder, but having de Jong and Busquets patrolling the central area and reading the game seems like the best pairing. Those two sending through balls and advanced passes to the foursome in the final third will be a sensational dynamic.
Most importantly, this setup gets the quartet all on the field simultaneously, everyone is in their natural, customary positions and this serves as the best plan collectively to build a cohesive group.
You will see Messi on the ball more in the No. 10 role behind Suarez roaming that central mid area and creating for himself and others around him. The left flank especially will be a nightmare for opposing clubs to cover with Neymar’s otherworldly dribbling skills and Alba bursting down the sideline causing havoc and creating width. Griezmann and Suarez’s off-ball movement through the channels will be a lofty task for fullbacks and centerbacks to handle.
Another bonus is that all four players are interchangeable. Messi can practically play anywhere in the attacking third. Neymar can play as a No. 10 because of how wonderful he is with the ball at his feet. Suarez’s all-around abilities and work rate as a striker and winger would fit with any club. With Griezmann, he can excel in a multitude of capacities which makes him such a valuable commodity.
All in all, the sight of seeing a Messi-Suarez-Neymar-Griezmann quartet together on one field will frighten the hell out of every European club, while also being the deadliest group of attacking players on one side the sport has ever seen.