FACING Barcelona’s front three has always been a terrifying prospect for defenders.
For three seasons, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez blew away anything before them.
While, before them, there at Ballon d’Or-winners galore.
However, tonight, Real Betis’ backline will be facing Paco Alcacer and Gerard Deulofeu following Neymar’s £198million move to Paris Saint-Germain and a knee injury to Suarez.
It’s yet another incredible example of just how low the Catalans have fallen.
They followed up the 5-1 aggregate annihilation by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup by announcing the £36.5m signing of Paulinho from Guangzhou Evergrande.
Just 2,000 fans turned up to see the Brazilian’s presentation.
It was always like this — as Barcelona’s attack shirts have been worn by some of the game’s best-ever.
1993-94 — Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup
Johan Cruyff’s Barca Dream Team romped its way to the Champions League final 1994.
Stoichkov and Laudrup had lead the line for the Catalans’ for three years — a period which included the club’s first-ever European Cup triumph in 1992.
Then Romario arrived in the summer of 1993 from PSV Eindhoven.
And Barca were dubbed the best team in Europe.
Cruyff’s men retained their La Liga title — but were outclassed 4-0 in Athens by Fabio Capello’s AC Milan.
Laudrup moved to great rivals Real Madrid that summer and Romario left a year later.
1996-97 — Hristo Stoichkov, Ronaldo and Luis Figo
Sir Bobby Robson replaced Cruyff at the helm in the summer of 1996 and immediately signed world football’s hottest property — Ronaldo.
The former England manager had already worked with Luis Figo for two years at Sporting Lisbon, and helped transform the Portuguese midfielder into a global superstar.
Stoichkov was coming towards the end of his controversial career — having returned from a season-long loan at Italian side Parma — but was still effective.
The Class of ’97 narrowly missed out on the La Liga title — but did win the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Super Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Ronaldo — who had followed in the footsteps of compatriot Romario, joining from PSV for a world-record fee of £19.5million — left after just one season for another world-record price of £21.5m to Inter Milan.
He scored 47 goals in 51 matches that season. A record that surely wouldn’t be beaten, would it?
1998-2002 — Rivaldo, Patrick Kluivert, Luis Enrique
Barca decided to turn to Brazil’s next hottest property to replace the departed Ronaldo.
Rivaldo had enjoyed an impressive season at Deportivo La Coruna, but shot to stardom when he moved to Catalonia.
A year later, new Dutch boss Louis van Gaal brought in Patrick Kluivert from Ajax — and the club won back-to-back La Liga titles.
Rivaldo went onto win the 1999 Ballon d’Or after an incredible year.
That is despite Barca crashing out at the Champions League group stage, having been pitted against eventual finalists Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
2004-07 — Ronaldinho, Ludovic Giuly, Samuel Eto’o
Barcelona were a little in the wilderness in the early 2000s.
The Catalans had gone five years without the league title — between 2000 and 2004.
But new president Joan Laporta’s arrival in 2003 changed all that.
He saw the club invest heavily in World Cup superstar Ronaldinho that same summer.
A year later, he added Giuly — who had been the star of the Monaco team which lost to Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the Champions League final — and the impressive Samuel Eto’o from Real Mallorca.
New manager Frank Rijkaard brought the La Liga title back to Catalonia in 2004-05.
And the following season saw its retention along with the addition of the Champions League trophy.
The football landscape was slowly changing.
2008-09 — Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry
Pep Guardiola was promoted from Youth Team boss to first-team manager in the summer of 2008.
And immediately sold party-animal Ronaldinho and the aging Deco.
Messi was already a first-team player, but Pep made him the focal point, rather than Ronaldinho.
And the move reaped its rewards.
Barca completed Spain’s first-ever Treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey andChampions League that season — and woule go on to be regarded as the greatest club side of all-time.
Eto’o left for Inter in the summer of 2009, while Henry stayed just one more season.
If the football landscape was changing under Rijkaard, Guardiola had now altered it forever.
2010-13 — Lionel Messi, David Villa, Pedro
No Treble for Guardiola’s second Barca strikeforce — but arguably the best club team ever seen.
This is a team that demolished Mourinho’s Real Madrid 5-0 in the most eagerly anticipated league clash in football history.
They lost the cup final against their arch-rivals in 2011, but romped to the league title.
And in that season’s Champions League final, they took Sir Alex Ferguson’s apart in one the most breathtaking displayed of attacking football — with all three frontmen netting in the 3-1 victory.
Barca won three league titles in a row until Real Madrid nicked it in 2011-12.
However, the Catalans retained it a year later, before Villa moved onto Atletico Madrid and Pedro to Chelsea.
2014 –present — Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez
Now a veteran of FIVE Ballon d’Or awards, Messi is often regarded as the greatest player in the history of football.
He suffered a difficult 2012-13, by his standards — scoring 60 goals in all competitions while the Catalans finished the season with ‘just’ the league title.
And a below-par 2013-14 led to many questioning whether Messi’s best days were behind him as Barca did the unthinkable and finished a season trophyless.
They even missed out on the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2007.
Neymar had been signed in the summer of 2013 and new boss Luis Enrique brought in Suarez last summer.
And then the good days returned.
A difficult end to 2014 for Messi, saw a complete transformation as Barca bulldoze their way to a second Treble success.
In 2015-16, Enrique’s men did another league and cup double, but they couldn’t retain La Liga in his final season.
The incredible trio was dismantled when Neymar moved to PSG.