As Barcelona prepare to play their first match since the passing of Johan Cruyff, a man who has had such a profound influence on the success the club has enjoyed over the past 25 years, it seems incongruous to point out something the great man got wrong. But ahead of Barcelona’s meeting with Real Madrid on Saturday, it is worth remembering that Cruyff was one of many voices who suggested both when Neymar was signed to join Lionel Messi in 2013 and then when Luis Suárez joined the party the following year that the combination would never work.

And it is not a criticism of Cruyff to now point out his comments, despite the fact that the trio have gone on to form the most devastating attacking trident ever witnessed. Cruyff’s opinion made plenty of logical sense at the time. While the success of Messi, Neymar and Suárez has since made it appear that simply combining three of the game’s great individual talents in one team is a guaranteed recipe for success, that is far from being the case.

One only needs to look at the team Barcelona will come up against at the Camp Nou on Saturday to see that fact borne out. When Real Madrid broke the transfer record in 2013 to sign Gareth Bale it was seen as a direct response to Barcelona’s capture of Neymar, a player the side from the Spanish capital had also coveted.

Similar questions to those posed at Barcelona were asked at Real Madrid. Could Bale, who had just come from a starring season with Tottenham when scoring 21 Premier League goals, thrive in a team alongside the dominant figure of Cristiano Ronaldo as well as France striker Karim Benzema?’

There was some initial vindication for president Florentino Perez’s star-laden plan. Real Madrid won a long coveted 10th European Cup in that first season, with Bale and Ronaldo scoring in the Champions League final.

But that triumph papered over the problems. With Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo (the so-called BBC) leading the line, the rest of the Real Madrid team had to operate at an incredible intensity and with a blue-collar work rate to make the side function. As has been shown by Real Madrid falling a long way short in the league title race that season, it was not sustainable.

That Champions League, together with the Copa del Rey the following season, are the only titles Real Madrid have won since the BBC have been in operation. And it could well stay that way, and perhaps end that way, with Real Madrid going into Saturday’s Clásico 10 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, already out of the Copa del Rey and seen as a significant distance from both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the hunt for the Champions League.

Barcelona, meanwhile, completed a clean sweep of trophies last season and are on course to make it unprecedented back-to-back trebles this campaign. It is success that has owed a huge amount to Messi, Neymar and Suárez (the MSN).

Luis Suárez, Neymar and Lionel Messi Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez have scored 108 goals between them this season. Photo: Getty Images

Between them this season they have already scored 108 goals in 119 combined appearances. But it is not the goal-scoring that separates the MSN from the BBC. Real Madrid’s attacking trio, after all, have a similarly prolific 80 goals in 85 combined appearances in all competitions.

Instead, it is the two trios’ assists statistics that offer a glimpse into the difference between them. And those differences are embodied in the star man for each team—Messi and Ronaldo.

While Messi, Neymar and Suárez have a combined 63 assists this campaign, Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema have just 26. Added to that, so many of the Barcelona trios’ assists have been for each other. There is stark difference on the amount of interplay that goes on between the Barcelona front three compared to their Real Madrid counterparts.

In a footballing sense, Messi, Neymar and Suárez have all proved wonderful team players, not just star individual talents. Ronaldo and Bale, meanwhile, have continued to suggest that they need a team built around them in order to flourish and have indirectly been engaged in a recurring public battle of power over their roles within the team.

Speaking last week about Messi and Ronaldo, former Barcelona midfield great Xavi touched upon how the two compare. “Ronaldo is a goalscorer, and Messi is also a goalscorer; however, Messi is a much better team player than Ronaldo,” he said.

While there is no surprise that Xavi is rating his former teammate above Ronaldo, there is also a distinct amount of truth behind the comment. Not only does Messi possess the greater passing acumen that makes him a better team player than the man long seen as his rival for the title of the world’s greatest player, the two men’s egos also come into play.

The key change that led to the success of Barcelona’s forward line was when Messi moved away from being the focal point at the center of the Catalans’ attack, allowing Suárez to play in his favored position. It is difficult to imagine Ronaldo doing the same. Indeed, there have been regular rumors of Ronaldo’s unwillingness to switch position. It has meant Messi getting the better of Ronaldo both individually and collectively.

This may well be the last Clásico in which the two most famous forward lines in world soccer face off, with plenty of speculation suggesting Real Madrid have decided it has to be either Ronaldo or Bale next season but not both. For Messi, Neymar and Suárez, however, there is seemingly no end to the number of accolades they could end up collecting together.