LaLiga: Barcelona's problem with the misfiring Luis Suarez

Yahoo Sport UK

Despite being taught right from wrong at a young age, there’s a curiosity and allure to what it’d be like to play the villain. In so many of the most popular TV shows, centred around crime and drugs, we find ourselves rooting for the person doing wrong, breaking the rules. No one actively wants Walter White to be caught despite the fact he is manufacturing crystal meth. No one wants to see Tony Soprano get ‘popped’ even though he’s the head of the New Jersey mafia. We love to love the guys we’re supposed to hate. Step forward, Luis Suarez.

Now depending on which side of the fence you land, he’s either one of the first players you’d have in your team or someone you feel encapsulates everything which is wrong about football. The Uruguayan is no stranger to controversy, almost embracing it at times, and makes no excuses for his past demeanours. Suarez is someone who would do absolutely anything if it was to the benefit of his team or country. Whether you agree with that mantra or not, it’s admirable.

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Suarez’s reputation, much like fellow Premier imports Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, has only enhanced since landing on Spanish shores. He almost single-handedly won Liverpool the first Premier League title in their history before joining Barcelona. It felt like a no-brainer as he lined up alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar. Success was a foregone conclusion. This was the time for Suarez to fill up his trophy cabinet, something less likely to occur if he’d stayed at Anfield.

The best striker in the world

‘El Pistolero’ is feared more than he is hated – and with valid reason. In his first full season at Barcelona, Suarez scored 59 goals in 53 games. That’s at a level which usually only Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo hit. His goalscoring prowess was on a different level to other so-called ‘world class’ strikers. He was key in their LaLiga and Copa del Rey double as well as scoring five of Barça’s six in the FIFA Club World Cup.

It’s hard to get the praise you deserve when you play alongside the greatest player of all time but Suarez was as key as Messi that year. Just when Barcelona’s title tilt was starting to wobble, he stepped up with 14 goals in 5 matches. In the end, they finished a single point ahead of Real Madrid. Suarez was Mr. Dependable.

Last season saw Suarez underperform in the Champions League – in the biggest matches – but he was still key domestically.  The connection between he, Messi and Neymar meant they were difficult to keep quiet. If a goalkeeper didn’t catch a shot or cross and let the ball run free, it often resulted in a goal. A deadly trio who shared the goals more evenly than in 2015-16.

Without Neymar, Suarez is struggling

However in losing Neymar this summer it appears to have hurt Suarez more than Messi. The dependable Uruguayan is struggling to find his shooting boots and looks woefully short of fitness and form. Maybe the lack of success in front of goal is now a mental issue but with each passing 90 minutes you see a broken man trying to escape his rut. Basic passes are going estray and his first touch has deserted him, just like the flamboyant Brazilian he played with.

At present, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema’s conversion rates are coming under scrutiny. And while neither of those two are doing particularly well, neither is Suarez. According to Opta, his conversion rate has dropped dramatically from 23.4 last season to 6.5 so far (all competitions). That’s a huge swing. He has three league goals to his name but is drawing a blank in the Champions League as well as in both Supercopa encounters.

How does that compare to the misfiring Madrid duo? Well, Cristiano’s conversion rate has dropped from 16 to 10.6. Admittedly, this is boosted by his fine record in the Champions League but suggests he hasn’t been as bad as people make out. As for Benzema he too is notably below his rate of last term. He’s gone from 15.7 to 8.3. While both players’ numbers are relatively poor for their high standards, neither are as bad as Suarez’s on 6.5.

Valverde backs Suarez to come good sooner rather than later

Ernesto Valverde continues to back the striker and is certain he’ll find his best form soon. “He’s a priceless player to us. He’s ambitious, aggressive, gets in the right positions and is someone you can count on.”

Although that doesn’t feel entirely true, it makes sense to support the man who is arguably the best striker in the world.

“The more chances he misses, it’s good because because (at least) he’s getting into the right positions.” It’s a good point but there comes a moment where you are doing more harm than good by playing him.

In Suarez’s defence, he’s had little rest despite suffering knocks and tweaks. Uruguay depend on him just as much as Barcelona do and that means he can’t rest unless absolutely necessary. This is fine when you’re firing on all cylinders. But when you aren’t, it only puts your performances further under the microscope. Suarez doesn’t look comfortable out there and a rest might not be the worst thing in the world.

With Alcacer banished, there’s no natural replacement for Suarez

The problem is Valverde’s treatment of Suarez’s understudy, Paco Alcacer, makes it difficult to rest him without good reason. Alcacer hasn’t started a league game since the opening day of the season. In seven of the opening ten matches, Alcacer wasn’t involved at all. He did start against Real Murcia in the Copa del Rey – and scored – but returned to the bench against Athletic Club.

In the one match where Valverde opted to leave Suarez out of his starting XI, Alcacer didn’t even make the squad. That’s a glaring slap in the face to the former Valencia man. He looks increasingly likely to move on in January.

With no obvious replacement for Suarez it means more responsibility falls at the feet of Messi to fill in when needed. Although it’d be harsh to not hand Alcacer a chance at some point. The competition might do Suarez some good in the long-term as well.

The upcoming rest will do him the world of good

Barcelona asked Uruguay not to select Suarez for the upcoming friendlies in November and, thankfully for them, he won’t be. The reason stated was so that the striker could continue to rehabilitate his knee injury, the one he picked up in the second leg of the Spanish Supercopa. It’s important he rests as the fixtures until the break come thick and fast. A serious knee injury could derail Barcelona’s season so they need to be careful.

Suarez will start against Olympiakos tonight and look to get off the mark in the Champions League. After that there’s the clash with Sevilla at Camp Nou before the international break. While fans hate these disruptions to the domestic calendar it might be the perfect solution to Suarez’s issues. He needs to rediscover his magic touch in front of goal. It’s a testament to the squad – and Messi – that Barcelona are in such a strong position despite their striker going through a poor spell.

If Suarez starts finding the net with his usual regularity, it might be impossible for anyone to catch Barcelona.

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