Luis Suarez will find goal scoring form at Barcelona, because put simply, he’s too good not too. But Barca’s approach to the game may not actually bring out the very best of the Uruguayan hitman.
Suarez has had a slow start to his career with the Blaugrana – not helped of course by his lengthy ban for dining on a spot of Chiellini at the World Cup. But his record shows that while it can take him time to find the net consistently when in a new environment, eventually the goals come and with increasing regularity.
His time at Ajax is a case in point. Having joined from Groningen in 2007, Suarez bagged a handy 17 goals in 33 league appearances. The following season, he notched 22 in 31 before burning up Dutch football and blasting 35 league goals in 33 games and 49 goals in total in 2009-10.
At Liverpool, it was a similar story. Suarez joined the Reds in January 2011 and despite impressing with his hunger and verve actually only managed 4 goals in 13 Premier League games. The next campaign, one severely disrupted by his 8 game ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra, he scored 11 league goals for Kenny Dalglish’s outfit – a return that didn’t reflect his growing influence on the Anfield side.
Dalglish’s replacement by Brendan Rodgers coincided with a major upturn in Suarez’s fortunes in front of goal. The 2012-13 season saw him finish with 23 goals in the league.
But in what turned out to be his last season on Merseyside, the Uruguayan sealed his reputation as one of the most feared strikers in the world game by scoring 31 times in just 33 league fixtures in a season again curtailed by a lengthy ban.
Suarez did not play for Liverpool until the end of September, having been banned for biting Branislav Ivanovic at the tail end of the previous season.
So on the evidence of Suarez’s time in Europe, before they see a serious goal return, Barca fans will have to wait while the striker beds in to their side and becomes familiar with the system, style and personnel.
They will hope that at 28 and now at his playing peak, his experience will make that bedding in period swifter than before. However, Barca’s approach to the game and the system they employ may actually work against that hope.
Barcelona’s belief in total domination of the football and in playing the game deep in their opponents’ half of the field may not actually suit Suarez. He should adapt – but it may not be the best way to profit from his skills. The Catalan game plan tends to involve a lot of intricate, possession football in and around their opponents’ penalty area.
Naturally, with the opposition forced so deep, there is little space for forward players to run in behind. It’s a high precision game in very tight spaces.
Which takes us back to Suarez’s two seasons under Brendan Rodgers. In 2012-13 – the Northern Irishman’s first in charge – Rodgers tried to emulate Barca’s tiki taka approach. Suarez played beautifully at times and supplied goals, particularly as his understanding with winter arrivals Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge flourished.
But it wasn’t until last season, when Rodgers changed Liverpool’s style and essentially built his team to service Suarez’s strengths that the South American hitman really realised his potential. By playing deeper and drawing opponents on, Liverpool created spaces behind the opposition that were ruthlessly preyed upon by Suarez, Sturridge and co.
At that time, the smart money was on Suarez eventually leaving Liverpool for Barca’s great rivals Real Madrid. Had such a move actually materialised, I think Suarez’s introduction into Spanish football would have been much smoother and probably more explosive, given that the style employed by Los Merengues was a lot closer to that played by Liverpool last season.
That said, Suarez is clever and cunning, hungry and technically brilliant. And so while Barca’s approach may not entirely suit him, he will learn and adapt.
But how that process translates into goals and whether and how Luis Enrique tweaks the system to accommodate Suarez will be very interesting to watch indeed.