By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona’s celebrated ‘MSN’ strike force of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar had La Liga defenses at their mercy for much of the campaign but as Barca swept to the title by winning their final five games it was Suarez who led the three-pronged attack.
The Uruguayan scored 14 goals in those five games, sealing the title with a hat-trick in the 3-0 title clincher at Granada on Saturday, ending the campaign on 40 goals and finishing as top scorer in Spain and Europe.
His goal-scoring outshone that of his partners: Messi hit three goals in the five games, while Neymar had two goals, one of them from the penalty spot.
The Brazilian had the chance to have the final say in the win at Granada when he got through on goal but he selflessly teed up Suarez for a hat-trick.
Neymar was reportedly told by Argentine team mate Javier Mascherano recently to “stop being selfish and play for the team”.
Neymar's pass for Suarez’s third goal and his intelligent ball to Jordi Alba that lead to the Uruguayan’s opening strike were proof that the message had got through.
Earlier in the season Neymar was the team’s figurehead, stepping up a level while Messi was out for eight weeks with a knee injury.
Although Neymar finished the season with 24 goals, two more than last term, his form nosedived toward the end of the season and he was portrayed as the scapegoat for Barca’s surprise stutter in April.
Messi meanwhile has taken on a new role, playing ever deeper than before and controlling the play from deep. At times it resembled the role Xavi Hernandez had but with added firepower.
The Argentine was third in the league-scoring table with 26 goals, even with his two months out, yet it was his worst tally since 2009 and contrasted with his 43 goals last season.
While most strikers would still envy Messi’s tally, the signs are that the team have been geared up to get the best out of Suarez.
Helped by the fact that he played more minutes than any other Barca player this term, the Uruguayan scored 24 goals more than last season, when he was serving a ban for the first two months for biting.
Last season the success of ‘MSN’ was put down to Neymar's and Suarez’s ability to bow down to Messi but now the Uruguayan is the main man.
“Without people saying it, I’ve realized that recently my team mates have been looking to pass to me more and more,” Suarez said last week. “That’s a sign of the great team ethic there is.”
Barca’s attacking trio were even more ferocious than last season, scoring a total of 90 goals compared to 80 last term.
Spain's media acknowledged the new dynamic in the trio, with Marca and El Pais both proclaiming: “This was Suarez’s title.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon)