Luis Suarez has blown hot and cold all through the season, which is starting to be a problem that The Hard Tackle will now seek to inspect.
A lacklustre Barcelona was barely strutting past Real Valladolid in a rather packed Camp Nou in a La Liga encounter that should have seen the Catalans romping to victory instead. Ernesto Valverde decided to rest Luis Suarez and gave a nod to winter market purchase Kevin-Prince Boateng instead.
Boateng produced a dreadful performance against Valladolid’s low block, failing to hit them on the counter with pace when the defence was caught out of position and even missed a simple one-on-one.
Leading 1-0 but lacking teeth in front of goal, Valverde brought Suarez on in the 60th minute in the hopes of giving his side’s created chances the finishing it had been lacking. The Uruguayan came on to the warm applause of the Camp Nou faithful and got to the end of 4 clear chances in the remainder of the match, but missed all of them.
Cut to four days later. Barcelona travelled to Lyon to face the Ligue 1 side in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg clash. Barcelona managed to create a whole host of chances throughout the game. but the game ended goalless, with Luis Suarez once again cutting an extremely frustrating figure.
Poor first touch, failing to link up well with teammates, unable to carve out and exploit space and missing simple chances. The frustration showed on his face as it has done for quite a few months now, but more importantly it showed on Lionel Messi’s face, which is a rather rare occurrence.
Suarez’s personal highlights looked more like a blooper reel than a football compilation. The picture of Messi with his hand on his hips and looking up to the heavens in agony may have gone viral after the match – a fitting metaphor for Barcelona’s performance against Lyon, but also Suarez’s form and recent Champions League record, which is a major cause of concern in the eastern shores of Spain.
Suarez has now gone a mind-boggling 1,253 days and over 24 hours of Champions League football without scoring or assisting an away goal – his last goal away from home came against AS Roma on September 16, 2015 in a 1-1 draw in the group stages.
Compare this atrocious showing to his form in October, when Messi was out injured and Suarez had led the Barcelona attack on his shoulders, scoring a hat-trick against Real Madrid in the 5-1 hammering and you’ll have one of world football’s biggest conundrums, a phenomenon that has seen itself repeating over the last couple of seasons.
When in his elements and in his zone, Suarez is the deadliest striker on the planet. But, on days when he is off form, he looks like he does not even know the very basics of football. It goes without saying that Suarez is without a doubt, the greatest striker of this generation and one of Barcelona’s most important players ever since he signed for the Catalan outfit from Liverpool in 2014.
But, the inconsistent cycle of blues interspersed with moments of greatness is a worrying threat to a club that demands the treble from its team almost every year. The lack of a proper backup striker is rubbing salt to the wound for Barcelona.
Suarez’s recurring issues with his knee and the lack of rest has had some say in his performances, he has enough experience under his belt to talk and discuss this with the team management to get him sorted out, something that hasn’t happened in a while.
Even in the 2017-18 season, Suarez started the season poorly, missing easy chances in front of goal and being a liability to a makeshift attack after Neymar’s departure, to hitting his stride again during the months of December and January and then going back to his old disappointing ways when the business end of the competition arrived.
The season so far has shown signs of the same and Barcelona’s sale of Paco Alcacer, who is in hot form for Borussia Dortmund and Munir El Haddadi (certainly a better striker than his replacement Boateng) are looking like giant mistakes.
The worst part about Suarez’s decline is the fact that maybe he does not recognise it yet. A couple of seasons ago, even without his goals, Suarez had added a lot of value to the Barcelona attack. He used to engage the opposition defence, carve out spaces for Messi and the others to exploit, link-up well and set his teammates up, always looking like a menace for defenders up front.
The goals may have dried up since then, but his associative play has also taken massive hits. On the ball and off the ball, Suarez seems to be struggling right now. And venting his mistakes out on younger teammates like Ousmane Dembele and Nelson Semedo is neither helping his own case or the team’s. Suarez’s lack of form shows in his body language these days – languid and lacking teeth.
So, what can Barcelona do to remedy the situation?
In my opinion, Suarez should be relegated to the bench for a while. That should allow him to rest, get his body back to its very best shape and the time to reflect and contemplate. In the meantime, Ernesto Valverde should give more minutes to Malcom, who managed to impress against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg a few weeks ago and hasn’t seen a minute since.
The Brazilian winger, touted as a player with immense potential, has been criminally underused by Valverde and this could be the ideal time to test his mettle. A front three of Dembele, Messi and Malcom with Messi playing as the False 9 definitely sounds enticing on paper and alternatively, Phillipe Coutinho can also be deployed on the left wing alongside Messi and Dembele to take care of affairs.
Coming to the long-term strategy, it is imperative Barcelona sign a new and young striker to pump fresh blood into their attack. Luka Jovic has been rumoured to be a replacement option and judging by his form for Eintracht Frankfurt this term, he could be a fine addition to the squad. The Serb resembles Suarez’s attributes in many ways on the pitch and might just be worth the risk.
If Barcelona want to mount a serious challenge in the UEFA Champions League, they cannot solely depend on a striker who can give them a few good months in a season long calendar riddled with challenges, and ups and downs.