Football

Then there's Suarez, and Neymar

Barcelona had to wait nearly three months to unveil their shiny new toy this season as club record-signing Luis Suarez sat on the sidelines, suspended for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup last year.

When the Uruguayan was finally unleashed to form the third part of a star South American triumvirate also featuring Argentina's Lionel Messi and Brazilian Neymar, there were a few bumps in the road.

Suarez's (above) debut in the opening El Clasico of the season against Real Madrid coincided with the Catalans' first defeat as a rampant Real ran out 3-1 winners.

Worse was to come as Suarez's home bow also ended in a shock defeat to Celta Vigo a week later.

He took six games to open his account for the club, and even that was against Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia in the Champions League.

Doubts emerged. Were the three compatible? Shouldn't Barca have used their budget to strengthen other more obvious areas of weakness?

Five months on those questions seem long forgotten.

A run of 17 wins in 18 games has moved Barca a point clear of Real and made them favourites to extend that advantage to four when the European champions visit the Nou Camp.

Between them Messi, Suarez and Neymar (above) have racked up a return of 82 goals and 47 assists so far this campaign, and have Barca on course to repeat the historic treble won in Pep Guardiola's first season in charge.

Moreover, they have out-gunned Real's own three-pronged attack of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. Crucially, the presence of Suarez and Neymar has created the space for Messi to rekindle the form which made him World Player of the Year four times in succession between 2009 and 2012.

As Suarez has began to make his mark, Neymar's free-scoring form of early season has stalled a little.

But Barca boss Luis Enrique believes those expecting miracles from all three in every game are watching the wrong sport.

"I think all three have shone throughout the whole season: in goals, assists, defensive work, movement," he said.

"It is impossible for all three to score a hat-trick every game. This is football, not water polo or basketball."

Suarez agrees and insists it is team spirit and not just talent which has got Barca back on top.

"He will be the best player in the world because he has it all," he said of Neymar.

"He has a lot of quality, scores goals and is a great teammate, which some people sometimes doubt." - AFP.