While some players are brilliant individually, others have a unique chemistry with teammates that makes for sensational attacking play.
Although it might be hard to believe, especially for younger football fans, but there was a time when playing two strikers up top was the norm in football. 4-4-2 was almost the default formation deployed by teams then.
Modern football’s obsession with tactical flexibility and complexity, coupled with the rise of a number ten playing alongside a lone striker, is killing off attacking partnerships.
At most teams now, you will see “false nines” and “trequartistas”, but truly great strike partnerships are rare to find.
In football, top players always stand out no matter the circumstances. While some players are brilliant individually, others have a unique chemistry with teammates that makes for sensational attacking play. In fact, some of the most iconic football players stood out as part of brilliant partnerships.
FootballOrbit brings you the 11 greatest attacking partnerships in football history.
1. MSN (Barcelona)
Between 2014 until 2017, Barcelona’s front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar (popularly known as ‘MSN’) were virtually unstoppable. They provided a lethal mix of skill, creativity, speed and goalscoring ability.
They were the key men as the Catalans won the treble in 2015 — the trio’s first campaign together — and twice they scored well over 100 goals in a season in total between them.
MSN even topped Real Madrid’s combined team goals in 2015, scoring 122 goals in a single season.
The following season, they broke their own record with 131 goals.
Messi, Suárez and Neymar dominated Spain and Europe, playing a hand in an astonishing 313 goals and assists between each other!
Furthermore, they were all best friends off the pitch and regularly socialised with their families.
2. BBC (Real Madrid)
At the same time that the MSN were tearing defences apart for Barcelona, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo were doing the same for Real Madrid in an attacking trio famously named the “BBC”.
With the help of the BBC, Madrid became the first club to win three consecutive UEFA Champions League trophies (with the competition in its current format).
Overall, Real won Europe’s premier competition four times with the BBC in their squad.
The BBC finally broke up after five glorious years together when Ronaldo joined Juventus in 2018.
3. Pele and Garrincha (Brazil)
Candidates for the greatest partnership of all time, Pelé and Garrincha led Brazil to her first two FIFA World Cup trophies.
Astonishingly, Brazil never lost a game with both players playing together: 40 games, 36 wins and 4 draws, scoring 44 international goals between them!
Garrincha is one of the most underrated footballers of all time. He was a gifted dribbler and did things that players fail to emulate even till today. Pelé on the other hand was a lethal finisher and astute dribbler who makes the impossible seem easy.
Pelé and Garrincha will continue to be remembered as the only big footballing partnership in history that never lost when together on pitch.
4. Alfredo Di Stefano, Francisco Gento, and Ferenc Puskas (Real Madrid)
Before Real Madrid’s famous BBC frontline, a trio had already made a mark in the club’s history; Alfredo Di Stefano, Francisco Gento and Ferenc Puskas led Madrid to five European Cup (UEFA Champions League) titles in a row.
One of their most notable performances was the 1960 European Cup final where Puskas scored 4 goals and Di Stéfano scored 3 in a 7-3 victory vs Eintracht Frankfurt.
Talk about simply being world class!
Alfredo Di Stefano is still one of the highest scorers in the UEFA Champions League, which is quite a great achievement due to the fact that teams play so many more games these days.
Francisco Gento also remains the only player to win six European Cups.
5. Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke (Manchester United)
This list will not be complete without mentioning this duo, as they are a point of reference for modern day attacking partnerships, especially in England.
Good friends on and off the pitch, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke scored 53 goals between them in all competitions during Manchester United’s historic 1998/99 treble-winning season.
Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke playing together were always a delight to watch.
6. Thierry Henry, Roberto Pires and Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal)
Henry, Bergkamp, and Pires could have played with each other blind-folded and they would still find each other with a pass. That’s how good their chemistry was on the pitch!
They were integral members of Arsenal’s legendary “Invincibles” team that went unbeaten throughout the 2003/04 season.
The trio had a hand in 73 Premier League goals for the Gunners that season, with Henry finding the back of the net on 30 occasions to win the Golden Boot.
Arsenal were also very close to winning the UEFA Champions League in the 2005/06 season, but were defeated by Barcelona.
7. The Holy Trinity (Manchester United)
Manchester United’s ‘Holy Trinity’ attacking partnership of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Dennis Law terrified defences all over England and Europe for more than a decade.
Best was one of the greatest dribblers football has ever seen, Law was an elite goalscorer, while Charlton was one of best-ever attacking midfielders in football history.
Their performances resulted in Man Utd becoming the first English club to win the European Cup (now UEFA Champions League) in 1968 as Benfica were thrashed 4-1 at Wembley after extra time.
They are among the top 10 greatest Manchester United players of all time.
8. The 3Rs: Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho (Brazil)
An incredible Brazilian trident of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho lighted up the 2002 FIFA World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.
Between them, they scored 15 goals over the course of the tournament. They also provided four assists as Brazil crushed every team on their way to winning the trophy, with no country having an answer to the brilliant attacking trio.
The 3Rs inspired later generations of footballers with their creativity, skills, and ruthlessness.
9. Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush (Liverpool)
Integral members of arguably the greatest Liverpool side of all time, the striking partnership of Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush was among the most deadly English football has ever seen.
Dalglish is one of Liverpool’s greatest, a striker ahead of his time and a natural goalscorer. He scored the winning goal vs Club Bruges in the 1978 European Cup final. He also served as a player-manager for Liverpool after Joe Fagan retired.
As for Rush, he got signed when he was just 18 years old and took time to fit into the team. But when he fully settled in, he started scoring goals non-stop.
Dalglish brought guile, wit and touch while Rush’s fearsome pace and finishing ability were responsible for a mountain of goals in the ’80s.
The duo won 14 trophies together at Liverpool.
10. Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez (Manchester United)
The combination play of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez was a sight to behold.
Opposition teams were made to look powerless as these three — who were known as the “Red Arrows” — stormed past them.
83 Premier League goals were either scored or created by this attacking trio, as they ripped defences apart at will.
During the 2007/08 season, where Ronaldo netted 31 Premier League goals, the front three combined for 57 goals, an average of one goal per 134 minutes.
Manchester United went on to win the Premier League and Champions League double that season — no British side has achieved this feat since.
Ronaldo won his first Ballon d’or at the end of the season, this would not have happened without the creativity and firepower of Rooney and Tevez alongside him.
In total, Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez contributed 201 goals and assists in 293 appearances and led the Red Devils to back-to-back Premier League titles.
11. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
The combination of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino was like a match made in heaven.
Over the last five years, they have helped Liverpool win the UEFA Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup, English Premier League and League Cup, with many more coming….
This fearsome trio have combined to score well over 300 goals for Liverpool and they are still active!
Fans love watching this trio play together because it is an unforgettable experience and a delight to watch.
¶ Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten (AC Milan)
¶ Michael Owen and Emile Heskey (Liverpool)
¶ Radamel Falcao and Hulk (FC Porto)
¶ Harry Kane and Heung-min Son (Tottenham)
¶ Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
¶ Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi (AC Milan)
¶ Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
¶ Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan (Athletico Madrid)