The feared MSN forward-line of Messi, Suarez and Neymar is indisputably the greatest in the game, and Neymar is fast emerging as its unheralded jewel

With the goals, the assists and the records then the MSN forward-line of Messi, Suarez and Neymar is not only the best strike-force in living memory – there probably is no need to say probably about that grand claim now – but a statistician’s dream.

There is one set of figures that are also intriguing as the triumvirate prepare to face Arsenal in Tuesday’s first leg of Barcelona’s Champions League last-16 tie: their ages.

• Just how do Arsenal beat Barcelona?

Lionel Messi is 28 and will turn 29 in June. Luis Suarez is already 29. Neymar has only just celebrated becoming 24 this month. That is, in football terms, quite a gap.

Neymar is the youngest component of the feared front-line

Throw into the mix that Cristiano Ronaldo is already 31 – in a fancy-that twist he shares the same February 5 birthday as Neymar – then there is a clear division between what would commonly be regarded as the best four players in the world, the Ballon D’Or protagonists if the shortlist stretched to four to include Suarez.

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Neymar is, evidently, the youngest. He is therefore the only one yet to hit his prime or, at least, his prime years. Messi and Suarez are in that period right now; Ronaldo already seems to be the other side of it.

• Where are Arsenal and Barcelona’s 2006 finalists now?

The age issue is something they are well aware of at Barcelona where there is an expectation that the Brazilian should become the best player in the world in two to three years time.

Neymar scored the winning goal in Barcelona’s recent match against Las Palmas

By then Messi will be 30 going on 31, Suarez 31, Ronaldo 33. There may be rivals – Gareth Bale, Thomas Muller, Paul Pogba, maybe Paulo Dybala and others will emerge – but Neymar appears to be best placed in terms of talent and profile and growing maturity to assume the mantle. There is no obvious challenger to his anticipated dominance.

What is also interesting is how he is already regarded at Barcelona. And that does appear to be indicative. Having spent time at the club’s Joan Gamper training complex there is a certainly an expectation that Neymar will eventually succeed, and not just partner, Messi.

• Wenger seeks to end Catalan curse

Team-mates are not always the best guides – especially with their public utterances – but Gerard Pique is an exception. The Barcelona defender says it how he sees it. So he still emphatically rates Messi as the best player in the world; Suarez as the one with the best “first touch in the box” (interesting given his chance conversion rate is not always clinical) while Neymar is already “unstoppable, the best one-on-one”.

Much attention has rightly been devoted on how this unique forward line has worked; the selflessness that each player has shown with Messi willing to move positions to accommodate Suarez and Suarez willing to run himself into the ground for his team.

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