The BBC set the standard, Barcelona’s MSN matched it and ever since those two sensational front threes were consigned to history both big clubs in Spain have been searching to find their replacements.
Zinedine Zidane thinks he has the answer and he may well unveil it on Saturday when Real Madrid take on Huesca and the ABH forward line of Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard takes to the stage.
Not since the days when Gareth Bale, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo were taking on Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar has he been so enthusiastic about his three-pronged attack.
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema had a sensational season last campaign and is key to side
Eden Hazard is set to feature against Huesca on Saturday after a spell on the sidelines
Marco Asensio is also set to play for Real Madrid in their LaLiga encounter on Saturday
When he came back to the job in the summer of 2019 it was the attack that Zidane picked in the first friendly of the season against Bayern Munich in Houston. But for various reasons Real’s rocket ship forward line never took off.
Hazard had arrived from Chelsea with the weight of the previous season’s exploits (and the weight of his summer holidays) still slowing him down and by the time he had shed it the season was well underway and he was playing catch-up.
And poor Asensio never made it to the start of the season because his left knee suffered serious injury that would have ruled him out for the whole season had the campaign not been truncated by the coronavirus.
When he came back for the final 11 matches of the season he started brilliantly with a superb goal in his first appearance but he has remained a player Zidane wants to tread carefully with after that season destroying injury.
Hazard’s problems also increased with the serious injury to his right ankle that needed surgery and from which he seemed still to be suffering the after-effects of into this season.
For 14 glorious minutes in midweek Zidane was able to bring those three together as Madrid came back against Borussia Monchengladbach. It was only the third time they had been on the pitch at the same time in a competitive game.
Real manager Zinedine Zidane is finally able to unleash his first-choice front three
There were brief minutes during last season’s run-in against Valencia and then in the failed mission to turn the Champions League last-16 game around against Manchester City. But this time they were all fit and Zidane was able to actually believe that they might be able to stay together in his first team.
It’s a huge relief to him, not just because he believes that they complement each other perfectly with Hazard and Benezma dovetailing between central and left-side attacking positions and Asensio stretching teams with his sprints down the right, but because Zidane still has grave concerns over the alternatives.
Vinicius, Luka Jovic and Rodrygo have all been in and out of the side over the course of the last year since injuries destroyed Zidane’s dream front three but none of them have convinced.
BBC – Gareth Bale (L), Benzema (R) and Cristiano Ronaldo set the standard as Real’s frontline
Vinicius has come closest to cementing a place in the team but Zidane still believes that, aged 20, Vinicius should be changing games from the bench as a late impact sub, not leading Real Madrid’s attack.
Benzema’s desperation with him in midweek, inadvertently revealed when cameras in the Borussia-Park tunnel picked up on him telling Mendy not to give him the ball underlined how some of the senior players feel the same way.
They have not given up on the idea that decision making and finishing will eventually come to him. And if he can add those qualities to his electric pace, his strength, his durability and his dribbling ability he will become one of the best players in Europe. But he needs to be protected, not over-exposed while he is still learning.
Zidane’s despair at the Jovic situation seemed to also have been inadvertently revealed when Borja Mayoral admitted in his press conference when presented as the new striker at Roma that Zidane had wanted him to stay and Jovic to be loaned out.
Real’s rivals Barcelona matched it with their own MSN – Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar
And Rodrygo remains a player who, while possessing many of the cool-headed attributes that Vinicius lacks is not yet able to influence games over any sustained period of time and remains a work in progress.
No one at Real Madrid discounts the possibility that these three, in particular the two Brazilians, could end up making the grade at Madrid. But for now Benzema, Asensio and Hazard is the standout preferred option, at least until next summer when the club hope to be able to sign Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint Germain.
Inter Milan are on the horizon and because of the team’s bad start in Europe they are must-win encounters. Zidane wants his best front three for those games and he has no doubts about the players who make up their first-choice strikeforce.
Zidane believes Vinicius should be changing games from the bench as a late impact substitute