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How to Fit Seven into Three: Dealing with Barça’s Strike Options

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Barcelona start the season with a wealth of attacking talent but how does Luis Enrique keep all of his strikers happy?

David Ramos

For the purpose of this article we are going to presume that all of Barça's forward are available, so no injuries to Neymar and no 9-month ban for Luis Suárez. The summer signing of Suárez and departure of Alexis Sánchez to Arsenal meant Barcelona went into the season with four registered strikers for the first team as well as two from the B-team.

The obvious front three first choice is Messi, Neymar and Suárez but what is less clear-cut is what positions they will take up. During his debut season, Neymar rotated between the left, middle and right to accommodate over players. Unquestionably his best form came when he was in his more natural position on the left, allowing to cut inside and squeeze shots in towards the near post. On the right, he looked less comfortable and he never really shone in a central role.

Luis Suárez spent the majority of his time in a central role at Liverpool, either as a lone striker or as part of a a front three with Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling. This is where he scored the majority of his goals and where he put in the kind of form that made Barça shell out £65 million for him.

For the last five or so years, Messi has nailed down that central role having been first moved their by Tito Vilanova during his La Masia days. So an arrival of another central striker would seem to have a negative impact on Messi but it is actually the reverse. During the World Cup, Gonzalo Higuaín was linked with a move to the Catalan club and his Argentina captain, Messi, stated how he enjoyed having a striker ahead of him as it preoccupied the defence, allowing him more room. This kind of role is perfect for Suárez whose constant movement will distract the defence allowing the Barça number 10 the space he needs to inflict damage.

This would support the idea floated before the start of the season, that Luis Enrique was preparing to line his strikers up in a 1-2 formation with Messi in the number 10 role behind Neymar and Suárez. This is likely to allow each striker to play their best game with Neymar finding space on the left, Suárez terrorising defenders and Messi pulling the strings a little deeper.

However, before Suárez's switch to the Premier League he did play on the right wing and has a tendency to move to this area of the field. Therefore a 4-3-3 would also make sense as it allows all three to play in a position they are comfortable in. Also the fact that both wide players tend to cut in means the bombing wing-backs of Jordi Alba and Dani Alves can have a greater impact on the play.

This is the options for the starting front three, but they can't play every game and Enrique will use the likes of Pedro and Rafinha as well as B-teamers Munir and Sandro.

For a man who was a key player in Barça's recent success, it may come as a bit of a shock to Pedro to find his game time dramatically decreased this season. Enrique is an advocate of promoting youth and although Pedro typifies a player in the Barça system, he may not find himself the first choice substitute anymore. However if there was a player you can rely on not to sulk, it's Pedro.

Rafinha will be hopeful of more minutes this season having worked with Enrique at Celta de Vigo. So far this season, the coach has started him from midfield but you'd expect him to feature more prominently as part of the front three.

When Gerard Deulofeu embarked on his second loan spell in as many season, a few eyebrows were raised as to why he wasn;t staying with the club. Under the management of Roberto Martinez, he had performed well for Everton and looked to have earned a chance at his parent club but Enrique thought otherwise and that was perhaps influenced by the presence of 19 year-old Munir El Haddadi. Munir has accelerated through the ranks at Barça and found himself in the first team for the league opener against Elche. He marked the occasion with a goal and sent Barça fans home excited about the prospect of their next superstar.

Another talent for the future has already scored an important goal in Barça's history. Sandro Ramírez netted after some brilliance from Messi to earn Barça the three points against an organised Villarreal. Luis Enrqiue is a man who knows how to use the La Masia products effectively and you can expect to see frequent appearance from the youngsters this season.

So it seems Luis Enrique has quite a selection headache this season and that's before he's even contemplated the other eight starting spots, but what a headache to have.