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Appreciating the Premier League’s greatest ever front threes

Manchester United’s impressive run of form has been led by an exciting new-look forward line, with the precocious talents of academy graduate Mason Greenwood thriving alongside both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Premier League tactics and styles continue to evolve with each passing year but the modern game has largely favoured an attacking front three, a notable shift away from the trend of the nineties that commonly saw 4-4-2 formations and traditional strike partnerships.

Centre-forwards are now tasked with much more than simply goalscoring, the number nine now often an all-action presence whose movement and link-up play is essential to the fluidity of the system.

Wide players can either be traditional wingers or the more commonplace inside forwards, cutting inside to join the central focal point as increased emphasis is placed on attacking full-backs providing width.

Nostalgic fans of the Premier League will often hark back to to the iconic partnerships such as Blackburn’s ‘SAS’ of Shearer and Sutton or the telepathy of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole at Manchester United, but who are the division’s best ever attacking trios?

Here is a look back at the Premier League’s greatest ever front threes:

Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba and Damien Duff  (Chelsea)

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Jose Mourinho’s arrival in the Premier League at Chelsea saw the ‘Special One’ become one of the first notable exponents of a 4-3-3 formation, his expensively assembled side spearheaded by an attacking triumvirate of Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba and Damien Duff.

Duff was amongst the first signings to head to west London following the billionaire takeover by Roman Abramovich, signed by Claudio Ranieri before playing an influential role after Mourinho’s appointment a year later.

The Ireland international’s direct style and pace were perfectly complimented on the opposite flank by a young Robben, the Dutch youngster scoring seven league goals as Chelsea ended a 50-year wait for a league title during Mourinho’s debut season.

Central to the system, however, was Drogba – the Ivorian a hulking physical presence who occupied centre-back partnerships singlehandedly with his muscular frame and goalscoring prowess.

The Ivorian was a move away from the more traditional penalty-box poacher, a complete forward whose responsibilities included more than just finding space within the penalty area.

The trio helped Chelsea to secure back-to-back league titles and laid the foundations for the most successful era in the Blues’ history, the dominance of the billionaire-backed capital club seeing a notable shift in tactics throughout the division.

Tactical Analysis: The Special One’s formidable 2004-2006 Chelsea side

Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez (Manchester United)

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The success of arguably Sir Alex Ferguson’s last great side at Manchester United was built upon a formidable forward the line, the emerging forces of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney complimented perfectly by a tigerish talent from Buenos Aires.

Ronaldo and Rooney had signed for the Red Devils as precociously talented teenagers before flourishing under the Old Trafford spotlight, the duo developing into two of the best attacking talents in world football.

Despite securing a first league title in four seasons during the 2006/07 season, Ferguson sought improvement and secured the signing of Carloz Tevez from West Ham – the Argentine having been the key figure in the Hammers’ miraculous escape act to ensure Premier League safety.

The arrival of Tevez saw the formation of arguably the best forward line in Premier League history, the trio of players combining in breathtaking fashion to win back-to-back titles and the Champions League.

Ronaldo scored an incredible 42 goals in all competitions as United were crowned champions of Europe for a third time, becoming just the second Premier League player to win the Ballon d’Or as his game reached new stratospheric heights.

The Portuguese’s scintillating style was perfectly complimented by the selfless performances of Rooney and Tevez, the trio combining for 140 goals over the space of two hugely successful seasons in Manchester.

Remembering just how good Cristiano Ronaldo was for Manchester United in 2007/08

Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane (Manchester City)

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Three forwards is now the most common formation used in the Premier League and the division’s most successful sides in recent years have relied upon an attacking trident.

Manchester City have enjoyed the best period in their history over the past decade and the arrival of Pep Guardiola saw the club set unprecedented standards in England’s top tier. Key to their success was a three-pronged attack of Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane, the forwards combining to devastating effect to secure back-to-back league titles and record points haul.

Aguero has established himself as one of the greatest goalscorers in Premier League history since signing for City from Atletico Madrid in 2011, with only three players having ever managed more goals in the history of the division.

The Argentina international is arguably the deadliest finisher the league has seen and his clinical talents were complimented perfectly by the abilities of wingers Sterling and Sane, the former having evolved from an inconsistent wide-man to multi-functional world-class forward under the guidance of Guardiola.

Sterling’s intelligent movement and drifting into central positions has often freed space for his grateful teammates, whilst Sane’s electric pace and dangerous delivery is a throwback to wingers of a bygone era.

The duo were the only two players to have registered double figures for both goals and assists during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 Premier League campaigns, the perfect compliment to Aguero who scored 30+ goals in all competitions in each season.

Bye Bye Leroy: Assessing Sane’s four years in the Premier League

Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

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Liverpool’s fabled front three has helped the club to a hugely successful period under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp, propelling the Reds to Champions League success before ending a three decade wait to be crowned champions of England.

Perhaps their greatest strength is the fluidity of their movement, Firmino acting as a ‘false nine’ and dropping into midfield to link the play, as the irresistible talents of Salah and Mane move into the Brazilian’s vacated space from their positions out wide.

Liverpool’s system differs from other front threes in that Firmino – playing centrally – is the creative presence, with their chief goalscoring threat coming from inside-forwards in Salah and Mane.

Salah has been a goalscoring phenomenon since signing for Liverpool from Roma three years ago and is quickly closing in on a century of goals for the Reds, winning each of the past two editions of the Premier League’s Golden Boot and in contention to become just the third player – after Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry – to win the award in three successive seasons.

Last season saw Mane share the award alongside his teammate, the only time in Premier League history that two players from the same side have finished as the league’s leading scorers.

Read – Picking the best XI from players Jurgen Klopp has managed

Read Also – Will Thiago be next? Rating the players to play under both Guardiola and Klopp

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