THE REAL MVP: WHEN MESSI, VILLA AND PEDRO JOINED FORCES AND TOOK SOULS
When we talk about the greatest attacking trios the world has ever seen, we talk about Messi, Suarez and Neymar (MSN); Bale, Benzema, Cristiano (BBC); Best, Charlton, Law; Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and rave about the days when they effortlessly tore defences to shreds in tandem. One such attacking trio that is often forgotten about when having these conversations is Barcelona’s 2010/11 attacking trio of Messi, Villa and Pedro, or MVP as they’re lovingly known by culés all around the world. As a culé myself, I see this trio as probably the most versatile and complementary to each other’s playing styles. The MVP trio played in what can only be described as the greatest team to ever play the game, and that attacking trident was the cornerstone of the team’s success. While that Barcelona team failed to emulate the treble and sextuple in 2009 and 2010, which goes to show the impossible standards that iconic ensemble judged themselves by, it was arguably a better team during Pep Guardiola’s final season at the helm of the Catalan club and there’s no better place to take a closer look than at the iconic MVP triumvirate.
The trio’s success stemmed from how adaptable all three of them were. The basic structure of the team rested on Lionel Messi playing in the false nine role which allowed the Argentine to change positions in accordance with how the opposition defended. When playing against deep blocks, it allowed him to drop deep and pull defenders out of position while he recycled possession with Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta. Doing this led to Pedro and David Villa forming what was basically a front two and exploit the spaces left behind the backline. Messi’s explosive yet silky movement from deep rendered the midfield completely useless, and his darting movement and exquisite ball control meant he could perform quick one-two’s with his partners and render a man-marking system absolutely useless at times.
It must be said the signing of David Villa from Valencia was crucial to shaping a trio that became impossible to handle. The Spaniard signed for the Blaugrana just before he and the Spain squad left for what would be their first World Cup victory. Villa ended the tournament as the third top scorer and was also named the Silver Ball winner. El Guaje had a natural goalscoring knack and his adaptability on the pitch meant he was a great weapon for Pep to use. Villa, despite naturally being a No. 9 was deployed on the left wing by Guardiola, who has a penchant for tinkering with players’ positions across the pitch, availing excellent results in most instances. Villa struggled to find his feet in his first few games at the Camp Nou, but as expected from a forward as gifted as he, he found his footing eventually. His role was developed into more of a second striker who stayed out-wide. One of Villa’s biggest weapons was his ability to find spaces in-behind the opposition defence and getting onto through balls from the deep. In front of goal, ‘keepers knew it was game over when a prime David Villa had the sticks in sight. He was simply one of the most reliable finishers the world had ever seen.
The final piece of this puzzle is Pedro Rodríguez whose physical profile helped him be the first line of defence for the team. While Pedro wasn’t the silkiest or the paciest of wingers, his rapid burst of acceleration helped him beat defenders. His tactical and positional awareness often allowed Leo to take over the right side of the pitch, with the Spaniard assuming the spot of the false nine, instantly allowing Dani Alvés to push up alongside Messi to torment the opposing left-back. Pedro’s job was the most linear of the three frontmen, but it definitely wasn’t the easiest. His job included pinning the full back by overloading the wings, and also to track back and do the dirty work in case Messi or Alvés lost the ball without any cover.
In the 2010/11 season, the trio scored a total of 98 goals, with Leo scoring 53, Villa scoring 23 and Pedro scoring just one less than his compatriot. While Barcelona failed to win the Copa del Rey as they fell to a sole goal by Real Madrid in the final in extra-time, the virtuosic trident were front and centre behind the club’s glorious 4th Champions League title and their 21st Spanish league trophy. The front three all scoring and making a mockery of one of the greatest Manchester United teams in history on football’s highest stage was perhaps the moment that capped off their greatness during that season and as a truly impeccable trio.
While on the basis of individual talent the MSN trumps all and arguments can be made for other brilliant front three’s throughout history, the MVP epitomized perfect symphony and schooled sides as if they had been playing together for decades.