What do you get when you take Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, all at the peak of their powers, and put them in a team with Xavi and Andres Iniesta?
All the trophies. Every single one of them.
Barcelona have had some brilliant teams over the years, with Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola putting together revolutionary sides that changed the course of football as we know it.
But it’s possible that, for all their greatness, neither Pep or Cruyff managed a Barça team as absurdly dominant and talented as the one Luis Enrique took to glory in 2014/15.
They stormed to La Liga, Copa Del Rey and the Champions League playing an X-rated brand of football that combined the possession-focused sensibilities of Guardiola with the gung ho, balls-to-the-wall extravagance of Cruyff. It’s no exaggeration to say we haven’t seen anything like it since, and probably won’t ever again.
But while they were phenomenal across the board, there was a drive and intensity to their Champions League performances that left the rest of Europe watching on in awe. At the forefront of that was the best trilogy since Lord of the Rings – Messi, Suarez and Neymar, or ‘MSN’.
Defending against them was a hopeless task. Trying to analyse it them is almost just as hopeless. They were just better than everyone else at football, it was as simple as that.
Messi in his pomp was one thing, dancing past challenges for fun and scoring hat-tricks with his weaker foot just to keep it interesting. Throw in Suarez and Neymar – who were each Ballon d’Or worthy in their own right – and no-one could get within a yard of them.
It started out fairly slowly, Gerard Pique scoring the only goal in an unconvincing win over APOEL, but by the end of the competition, MSN had netted 27 of Barca’s 32 goals, and been crowned champions of Europe for their efforts.
Among the highlights was the dismantling of PSG in the quarter-finals, in which Neymar and Suarez took a helpless David Luiz to the cleaners over two legs.
The first leg was perhaps Suarez’s finest hour. He was essentially playing street football, shoving players aside and laying on nutmegs all over the shop. His second goal, taking the ball from Messi, knocking it through the legs of Luiz, and bending an effort into the top corner, was so simple but so aesthetically pleasing it should be hung in a gallery.
By the semi-finals, it was the turn of Guardiola’s Bayern to take one for the team. They held their own for the most part until Messi decided to do Messi things. He came up with a double, the second of which saw him snap Jerome Boateng’s ankles with an impossibly deft turn, before dinking the ball over Manuel Neuer as if it was nothing.
It was 0-0 after 77 minutes played of the first leg; it was 3-0 by full-time.
Neymar’s brace in the second leg both followed a familiar template; Messi, through to Suarez, on a plate to Neymar at the back post. Easy as you like.
Facing up against Juve for the final, Barça were heavy favourites. They’d already won a league and cup double, and were out to make it a treble for only the second time in their history. Playing the way they were, they were always going to get it, weren’t they?
It was only fitting that Neymar’s 97th minute strike – the one that sealed a famous 3-1 victory – had all three musketeers heavily involved. In the final minute of one of the biggest games in their history, Barça played with Juventus like a cat with a toy mouse.
Neymar raced away and fed it through to Pedro, who turned and played it back across goal to the Brazilian, leaving Georgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci with nothing to do but watch as his strike rolled into the back of the net.
Having these three in the same team at the same time was never going to be sustainable in the long-term, but at the time, it created something very special. In three seasons together, they scored 364 goals between them, won eight trophies, and showcased a brand of football that no-one has been able to replicate since.
Neymar’s move to PSG in 2017 may have broke up the band, but we’ll always have the memories.