As Luis Suárez leaves for Atlético de Madrid for only 6 million euros in variables after six years at his beloved Barcelona, where his family lies, today we bid farewell to a club legend and one of the greatest to ever wear the blaugrana colours.
Football is a cyclical sport. Nothing lasts forever and, usually, the best players are worse when they are nearing the end of their careers, with the fans often demanding their players, no matter how beastly they were in the past, to go, especially at top clubs. The historical clubs have insane standards, often unrealistic, and work on the short-term future rather than the long-term. These legends often feel sad to leave their beloved clubs, but they have to understand that they might not bring joy to the fans they once mesmerised with their football.
During the last decade, Barcelona have had so many legends scoring, assisting, dribbling or saving their team many times. From Víctor Valdés to Lionel Messi passing by Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández or Andrés Iniesta, these players illuminated the pitch for the culés to enjoy. After this team, Luis Enrique’s beast came in 2014 and won a treble in 2015, with one of the most prolific frontlines in the history of the sport.
Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar, often called MSN, terrorised football for three years, obliterating everyone with their goals, skills, dribbles and assists exactly what Barça legends would do. The middle man was Luis Suárez, one of the best strikers in the history of the sport that made Ajax, Liverpool, Uruguay and Barça fans cheer for him, even in his worst moments. A controversial character, Suárez often did his talking on the pitch, especially at Barcelona, where he cut every controversy for peace of mind at the Camp Nou.
After biting Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder during the 2014 World Cup, Suárez was given a four-month ban from football but still completed a move that would see him move from Anfield to the Camp Nou for 82 million euros. Then the rest, as they say, is history.
Following four months without football, the Uruguayan sniper had a baptism of fire away at Real Madrid in October which ended in a disappointing 3–1 loss. After that, Suárez was a different beast. Scoring left, right and centre against La Liga and Champions League sides. Suárez lifted his team whenever it needed him, with one performance, in particular, sealing his place as one of the most lethal strikers in Europe.
In the quarter-final of the Champions League in 2015, Suárez took it upon himself to harass David Luiz for 90 minutes. First, after Neymar opened the scoring, Luis Suárez took the ball from the centre circle and nutmegged David Luiz before going through on goal like a madman. His placed shot was too much for Salvatore Sirigu, the poor goalkeeper that night who couldn’t deal with such a rocket directing right through the top corner.
A few minutes later, Luis Suárez’s treatment of David Luiz would be worse as he breezed through him to place a shot in the corner of the goal. The game ended 3–1 for the Catalan side, with Suárez being the main talking point and his genius acknowledged by everyone. In La Liga, it was no different. Suárez destroyed everyone and finished with a respectable 16 goals, and that’s with a few months off because of the ban. 2015 ended with a treble for Barça and Suárez, who, after scoring against Bayern Munich in the semis and Juventus in the final, entered blaugrana folklore forever after such an impressive campaign.
Luis Suárez was brutal against PSG in 2015 | Photo by Martin Bureau / AFP via Getty Images
Indeed, 2014/2015 was a year filled with trophies and achievements for the number 9 and the team. Still, his best season at the club will forever be 2015/16, the season where he pipped prime Lionel Messi and excellent Cristiano Ronaldo to both the Pichichi award and the European golden shoe, ending a few years of duopoly from the two cyborgs with another insane season at the club, his second in a row.
His best game came near the end of the season, away at El Riazor to the now third division Deportivo de la Coruña. Luis Suárez massacred a defence lost at sea for 90 minutes in a performance that summed up his season and can be summarised with one group of words: out of this world. That day Luis Suárez scored four and assisted three in an eight-goal dismantling of Dépor. The forward was superb, scoring volleys, tap-ins and trying to find a way for his teammates to get on the scoresheet too.
That term, Suárez finished with 40 La Liga goals, winning the Pichichi award and finishing as Europe’s top scorer after another season on top of Spain with a domestic double. In the Champions League, Luis Suárez tried everything but went out in the quarter-finals after scoring two in a comeback win at the Camp Nou against Atlético de Madrid and losing 2–0 on the away trip.
The MSN was one of the deadliest trios the world has even seen | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
The year after that, in the 2016/17, the team played poorly, but the MSN was still sensational, obliterating everyone on their way only to fall against Real Madrid at the end of Luis Enrique’s cycle. This campaign was marked by one significant event that happened in March 2017, where the MSN did some damage. After a 4–0 loss in Paris, Messi, Neymar and Suárez took it upon themselves to set the records straight in Barcelona, and the latter was the main actor from start to finish.
In the space of two minutes, Suárez had opened the scoring and kickstarted the Remontada – comeback – against PSG in the second leg of the Champions League last 16. His header, although cleared, crossed the line after lobbing Kevin Trapp. He then continued to be poisonous in PSG’s defence as his presence became a nuisance for Marquinhos and the other defenders at the club.
After his Uruguayan teammate Edinson Cavani scored at the other end the all-important away goal and Neymar scored a beautiful freekick in the 88th minute, Luis Suárez won a controversial penalty after a sensational through ball from Lionel Messi. Neymar converted, but Suárez got his fair share of criticism for his exaggeration, but who can blame him when Barcelona were that desperate? He won the penalty and Barcelona would win the game and the tie thanks to Neymar and Sergi Roberto, the two main actors in the final scene, the goal of the Remontada. In those three seasons, Suárez was marvellous and probably deserved a Ballon d’Or for his 2016 performance.
After Luis Enrique’s departure, Suárez looked like he lost his mojo and didn’t have the best energy under Ernesto Valverde, with his heatmaps drastically changing from a lively striker to a cranky old forward who could barely run, a far cry from the tireless Barcelona attacker who would run the length of the pitch just to bother the defenders. Despite his running decreasing, Suárez still got decent numbers under Valverde; enough to make everyone forget about the lonely Copa del Rey won the year before.
Luis Suárez has experienced a sharp decline, but this should not make us forget about all the memories cultivated | Photo by Laurence Griffiths via Getty Images
With Suárez and Messi given less defensive duties after Neymar’s exit, Barcelona still thrived under Valverde’s 4–4–2 and won the league with a large margin. Suárez got essential goals just like when he found the net at the Camp Nou in the 2018 El Clásico. After a double in Valverde’s first year, it’s still worth talking about what happened in Rome, where the players lost their hunger and Suárez, who didn’t run much, should have come off. Every player looked shattered physically, from Ivan Rakitić to Lionel Messi passing by Andrés Iniesta and especially Suárez. The Copa America winner was overused all season long, but he should have come off that night, and it was up to the coach to do that.
Putting that aside, Luis Suárez’s 2018/19 season showed the weaknesses of a tired and probably injured striker who couldn’t start every day, at least he shouldn’t have, but Valverde thought otherwise. Then came another decent campaign, where Suárez had his moments. These include his hat-trick in the Messi-less Clásico 5–1 win or his Man of the Match performance, along with Ousmane Dembélé, in the double confrontation in the Copa del Rey against the bitter rivals.
Still, what happened in May was unacceptable, and another clue to the overuse the players suffered while losing the hunger they had two years ago. They went to Liverpool’s Anfield for the return leg of the Champions League semi-finals after Suárez and Messi had scored three goals between themselves at home. This time, the players did have a better showing than in Rome. Still, the lack of finishing from some heavyweights of the squad led to Liverpool scoring four without a response from Messi, Suárez or anyone else.
Finally, his last course as a Barcelona player will probably be the least memorable as he was injured for four months in January. The team finished second in La Liga, crashed out of the Copa del Rey against Athletic Club in the quarters and went out at the same stage, this time in humiliating fashion, in the Champions League against Bayern Munich, with Suárez provoking David Alaba’s own goal with his presence after Jordi Alba’s pass and then scoring an unexpected but superb finish in Manuel Neuer’s bottom corner.
Even if Suárez’s story as a blaugrana went south in the last few months or years, he is still one of the most prominent club legends to have graced the pitch at the Camp Nou. The man even managed 198 goals for the club, making him the third-highest top scorer in the club’s history in front of club icons Josep Samitier or László Kubala.
Luis Suárez will be remembered as one of the best strikers in the club’s history and, in his prime, the best striker in the 2010s. He was astonishing wherever he played, and mostly at Barça, where he will always have a place in the future. The way some fans and the board have turned against him is deplorable and a lack of respect for such a legend who deserves respect, but the magical moments and memories will live on forever.
Detailed Analysis: Elche CF 0-2 FC Barcelona
Coming into this match, Barcelona were in good form statistically with only one loss and two draws in the last 12 games. Elche, a team with a sub-par record to say the least against Barcelona, had only two wins in the last 10 games. Barcelona were the favourites, but despite this, the performance wasn’t without hiccups for the Catalans.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 4-3-3 as expected. The game plan remained the same as always; maintaining possession, attacking consistently, and playing a game that emphasized passing and hence, bringing out the best in a team that was technically much superior to the opposition was the philosophy. The full-backs were key to this. Jordi Alba and Oscar Mingueza would regularly move up the field.
To facilitate this, Sergio Busquets would stay back on the attack, and a very high defensive line was employed. The wingers would stay wide, with Antoine Griezmann down the middle. The Frenchman would be seen dropping back to even out the numbers in midfield, while linking-up the play.
When building up, Busquets would often drop back to receive the ball. Considering Elche’s system, playing centrally was a problem. Hence, the ball would often be passed to the wings. The alternative included a staggering of midfield. Staggering is especially effective when the players are marked very tightly by the opposition.
Here, we have an example of the same. As the ball is with Samuel Umtiti, the Elche midfielder would appropriately step forward and prevent the centre-back from progressing with the ball. This would create a small window of opportunity when another midfielder would be moving to mark Pedri, seen in the circle on the far side, and space would be formed between the defensive lines. Frenkie De Jong is closer to Busquets as we see, which complemented his dynamic ball-progression. However, both interiors would regularly try to get into the box as seen in the 4-3-3 employed by Koeman this season, which led to both of Barcelona’s goals.
Jorge Almiron’s Elche side lined up in a 4-5-1. Their aim was to defend with organization, prevent Barcelona from finding space centrally, and attack through quick combinations and long-balls. The four-man defence was the core of Elche’s setup. As we see in the image below, the team was in a well defined 4-5-1. Lucas Boye, the sole striker, would look to press Barcelona’s defenders depending on who had the ball. However, with a major numerical superiority in the build-up phase, the Catalans had few problems getting the ball to midfield.
Another aspect of the team that we can see from the image above is the structure of the midfield line. Victor Rodriguez and Ivan Marcone are man-marking Frenkie De Jong and Sergio Busquets here. The middle-three of the five midfielders had an important job. Depending on Barcelona’s players, they would have to change the player they were marking while making sure not to give space through central areas.
When building up from the back, Elche would have one player very close to the goalkeeper. The central-defenders would stay in the box with the full-backs occupying the field higher up as the image below shows us. The midfield would completely split during this phase. Firstly, Marcone would drop back into defence. Secondly, the wide-midfielders, Emiliano Rigoni and Josan would move further up the field and look to occupy Barcelona’s full-backs. Raul Guti and Victor Rodriguez would be the two players remaining in midfield as we see here.
Almiron’s side should theoretically have done much better in progressing the ball. Once the ball was launched over to the full-backs, they would form triangles on either side with the wide-midfielders up the field, and the central midfielders laterally. The problem was of technical quality. Many times, the intention behind the combinational play was admirable, but the execution would go haywire.
When Elche had the ball, Barcelona would immediately counter-press. Due to this, there were times when Elche lost the ball in Barcelona’s half with many players committed forward. Following this, Barcelona would find a lot of space to progress. As we see in the image below, Barcelona have just won possession in their own half. Elche have five players in the opposition’s half, and Barcelona have five, including Busquets, ready to attack. This was a recurring theme.
The problem with this was Elche’s full-backs failing to fall back in time. As we can see, Ousmane Dembele is completely free to make a run behind the defence. Though organized when without the ball, Elche’s defensive line was chaotic when caught on the counter. This led to Barcelona getting many chances on the counter. However, a combination of individual errors from Barcelona’s players and Elche’s willingness to absorb pressure, the Catalans lacked the final, decisive pass.
In the image below, we see another important aspect of Elche’s game plan. They would always look to force Barcelona wide and attempt nullifying the threat. Forcing a technically astute side to play down the wings can often be a good way to cope with them, but Elche failed to be solid enough in defence as both the goals showed.
Barcelona look to be finding their rhythm, after a slow start to the season. This victory was a step in the right direction for the Catalans, while Miguel Almiron’s side was a model example of a team’s technical limitations hindering the tactics. Elche have much work to do as this matchup clearly reinforced. However, this matchup could have easily gone the other way if not for a great save by Ter Stegen to keep Barcelona 0-1 up. Either way, an important three points, and a crucial first goal for Riqui Puig.
The Blaugrana are on their way to becoming greater than the sum of their parts but are yet to prove themselves against stronger opposition.