Less resistance, less physical exuberance and seemingly unfit for the demands of Barcelona, but Luis Suárez had excellent numbers in the 19/20 season. However, it is necessary to review his campaign and see if it really is ideal to have him for another year.
This is the twelfth episode of a series in which we review the performances of the different Barça first team players, as well as discuss their futures for the next campaign. You can check the series here.
For a couple of years the physical decline of Luis Súarez had been visible, but none had been as disappointing as the 2019/20 season. He runs less and less, is beaten many times by opponents, cannot dribble past defenders as he used to do, and loses many frustrating balls. Even so, Suárez’s precision did not fail this campaign either, scoring 16 goals and distributing 8 assists in the 28 La Liga games in which he featured, with most of them being while he was returning from an injury.
For Barça, Suárez is a forward who can offer magnificent things that very few in his position can do as well as him. Nonetheless, the problem is not that he is part of the club, but that he plays almost all games and, on top of that, that he gets all 90 minutes in almost all of these.
The Uruguayan is still a profitable asset, but he cannot have an untouchable position in the XI, a right that only Lionel Messi should have in the team. When playing all matches, what Suárez causes is to wear himself out and not be able to perform physically in all duels, because, at 33, his body no longer has the resistance it had before.
Since last season we could speculate a similar thing about the performance of El Pistolero. But, instead of looking for a suitable replacement for the player, the Barcelona board spent heavy sums on Antoine Griezmann and never bought a real number 9 that could have more prominence than Suárez, while also alternating with him. This rotation would have allowed the South American to perform better physically while also having a footballer who was adapting to the system without assuming the responsibility of playing all minutes.
However, that signing was never made and Suárez ended the season physically exhausted. There were many games in which fans wondered what he had done to earn such unquestioned spot in the line-up. But the fact that he can still be decisive has been having a huge impact on coaches choosing him. That is why Suárez is still useful for his team, as he can change matches, but from the bench and with a secondary role Barça could get benefitted much more. Both the player and the team have to understand that this is not the same footballer who won the Golden Boot in the 2015/16 season.
Suárez’s extraordinary backheel goal against Mallorca was one of the highlights of his season | Photo by Alex Caparrós via Getty Images
Moreover, another factor that may have indirectly affected him this term is his friendship with Messi, since when they play together it is as if all other teammates didn’t exist. On many occasions it seems like Suárez only looks for Messi and Messi only looks for Suárez. It has been seen in matches when there is a clear chance to score and the Argentinian intends to give the final pass to Suárez, overlooking a third member such as Griezmann, Ansu Fati or Martin Braithwaite who are completely ignored due to such connection.
All these aspects, small or great, have been affecting the game of Suárez. In the now gone La Liga season, he lost approximately 9 balls per match, only completed 44% of dribbles attempted, completed 17.6 passes per game, and did not support in defence. Many times, though, Suárez continued to show that he still is a goalscoring machine. This campaign El Charrúa was able to surpass the legend László Kubala with 194 goals to earn himself a third privileged spot in the list of top scorers in the history of Barcelona.
Notwithstanding, it can be said for certain that this has been Luis Suárez’s worst season as a blaugrana. While his good numbers tend to make the centre stage, the fact that he is not physically ready to face games in which he plays almost by decree made him a disappointment in this last course.
What next for Luis Suárez?
With an uncertain future in Catalonia, Luis Suárez has few options to continue with the team in the following season, as does the rest of the dressing room. As it is unlikely that Barcelona does things well in bringing a real replacement for him without paying a lot of money while leaving Suárez in a secondary role, the best thing for the Uruguayan is to depart.
That said, the latest treatment that Suárez has received is totally unfair for a footballer with 198 goals and 109 assists in 283 career fixtures at Barcelona. He is undoubtedly a club legend and one of the best players in the history of the Catalan side. It can be understood that having Suárez stay can be considered toxic, but there are many better ways to say goodbye to a player who has given Barça so much than with a one-minute long phone call. Now, instead of talking and agreeing with Suárez on selling him to an ideal destination, he will go through the back door of the Camp Nou as an unimportant player. That is not the way to release a legend.
Ronald Koeman will not consider Suárez in his project and it is most likely that the Uruguayan will not be a Barcelona member for the following season. Ajax is his most likely destination, but other teams should not be ruled out either. Whatever his future, and with a proper role, Suárez could become a bargain for any club by being a scoring machine. He will not continue to have the same resistance, but his magic does not die, and he could have two or three more years of good football by playing 40% of games in any team.
A 19/20 season review of the new faces: Pedri
In September 2019, Barcelona paid 5 million euros to secure the services of Pedri, who would have a standout debut 19/20 season with Las Palmas at 17. In this article, we analyse the attributes and main statistics of the young and extremely promising attacking midfielder.
This is the first episode of a series of articles that dive deep into a season review of the incoming new faces at Barcelona. You can check the 19/20 season reviews here.
As Ronald Koeman‘s new Barcelona is already taking shape, the youngest member to be joining the first team is Pedro González López, affectionately known as Pedri.
The 17-year-old from the Canary Islands has been a member of UD Las Palmas through and through, right from the youth team set-up to his professional debut in 2019 with the first team. Playing primarily as an attacking mid or left winger, Pedri showcased his attacking repertoire early enough to become an important member of the Las Palmas senior team and went on to play 2982 minutes for them.
His skillset didn’t go unnoticed at the bigger clubs, and soon enough, he was snatched up by Barcelona. So, what does the young midfielder bring to the table?
Pedri was, admittedly, not the biggest goal threat in his first senior season, but given his age, that’s not an issue at all. He scored 4 goals and gave 5 assists.
Watching his shot videos and looking at his shot-map, one can conclude that he does need to work a bit on the judicious choice of positions from where to take shots. For example, there were a bunch of shots from the right with his right foot – shooting from such acute angles is quite unnatural for someone who is not a natural goalscorer. There are also far too many shots from outside the box, most of which, as the videos suggest, are hopeful punts than accurate attempts.
Given below are a variety of his attacking stats – both the raw value and the percentile (mentioned inside parentheses) when compared to other wingers or attacking midfielders who played at least 1000 minutes in the Segunda División of Spain last season.
Data by Wyscout
While most numbers appear to be modest, do keep in mind that this was a 16-year-old playing his first professional season. And his assists, expected assists (xA) and dribbling percentiles are particularly encouraging. It shows he is not afraid to take risks, and we are going to get more glimpses of that further into the article.
But before we proceed, let’s take a look at an animation of the only goal he scored from outside the box:
It was a well-struck fist-time half-volley into the left bottom corner, giving Las Palmas a 1–0 home win against Sporting de Gijón in September 2019. It also marked Pedri’s fist goal as a professional.
A big issue that plagued Barcelona all season was an uncoordinated and lackadaisical defensive effort put in by the team in general. Very little defensive activity by Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi led to Barcelona effectively defending with nine men. A lot of old men in the midfield in the form of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić and Arturo Vidal also meant that the necessary speed to catch up with fast breaks was lacking as well.
All these afore-mentioned midfielders are very fine players – some of the top midfielders in their prime – but have grown old and lost a bit of their zip, which is much needed in the midfield right now. Meanwhile, Frenkie de Jong is very athletic, and Riqui Puig is deceptively fast, and both of them put in decent defensive numbers. And Pedri should complement them well were these three to take the field in a game together.
Pedri put in a good amount of defensive work for Las Palmas. Browsing through his videos, one can immediately conclude that Pedri is deceptively fast as well and good at reading runs, and he times and angles his own runs to cut the opponents off in their tracks and win back the ball.
Shown below are a variety of his defensive stats. Except for aerial duels – understandable as he is only 177 cms tall –, he ranks very high at every other metric:
Next, let’s take a look at Pedri’s passing characteristics, as shown below.
Pedri was highly involved in the attacking build-ups while maintaining a pretty decent passing accuracy for an attacking midfielder/winger hybrid. He played a lot of forward passes at decent accuracy – something that should bring smiles to the faces of the fans. The teenager is definitely someone who is not shy at taking risks and will mix it up with a decent range of long balls as well. Pedri played around 9 forward passes per 90 minutes, around 8 back passes per 90 minutes and the rest were lateral.
Once again, his video clips make it clear that he attempts to progress the ball and be vertical whenever possible, and the data corroborates that. But here comes the highlight of the article: his keypassing numbers.
What should be clarified right away here is that “dangerous passes” is a nickname I am using for all sorts of progressive and productive passes. This includes passes that lead to shots, assists and pre-assists, progressive passes etc. Let’s have a look at his numbers:
Here we see his greatest asset: his passing abilities to do something productive. And Pedri is outstanding at almost every single category. He ranks very highly in productive passes (which are passes leading to shots + 2nd assists + 3rd assists), passes to the final third and the penalty area, through balls, deep progressions and progressive passes, while also maintaining a reasonably good accuracy at each kind of pass.
This is arguably what attracted Barcelona, and the club will be well served by a passer who is already at this stage of calibre at such an early age. Let’s take a deeper look at his passes that led to shots and goals:
14 of his 19 key passes were into the penalty area – arguably the most dangerous area to take shots from. Only one of the key passes is a corner kick – everything else comes from open play, which is encouraging.
Watching the videos, three of the key passes that end outside the box came from fast breaks – counter-attacks – where Pedri carried the ball upfield from deep and laid it onto the path of his teammate, or found his teammate with accurate long balls from deep. So, even though they were far from the box, they led to extremely dangerous plays by Las Palmas.
Focusing on just the assists, it is easy to see how Pedri combines his speed at ball-carrying with his silky dribbling skills to get past opposition and create crucial amounts of space before finding a teammate with a laser-accurate pass:
And as a special gift to the readers, here is an animation of the assist that happens at the top right corner of the pitch in the viz above. Pedri makes a well-timed run to latch on to his teammate’s pass outside the box, before pulling off an outrageous piece of skill to dribble past his marker with a ‘Berbatov-flick-and-turn’, runs into the box and lays the ball off through two opposition players for his teammate to smash a goal in.
Pedri is an absolute gem, and along with Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig, Francisco Trincão and Frenkie de Jong, may well end up forming the core of a youth-based team. As such, Barcelona will do well to hold on to him and nurture him well. After an already promising – unofficial – debut against Nàstic de Tarragona on Saturday, culés can only hope for him to have a great season and future ahead.
Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Samuel Gustafson, writer at Barça Universal, in collating the data and the videos used in the above article