Suárez was once the most feared striker in Europe. He formed a formidable partnership with Lionel Messi and Neymar Júnior in the famous MSN trident. While he still remains Barҫa’s second top goalscorer this season, there is no doubt his form has become worrying. Do the negatives of starting Luis Suárez now outweigh the positives?
When Luis Suárez first joined Barcelona in 2014, he was already one of the world’s best strikers. Barҫa bought the forward after a number of impressive seasons at Liverpool and Ajax. From there, the Uruguayan’s impact in Catalonia was incredible. He was key in helping the team win the treble in 2015 and was clinical in front of goal.
Recently, though, Luis has been a shadow of his former self and his form has been declining. He now has much less influence on games and struggles to lead the line for the Spanish champions. At one time he could occupy whole defences single handily, but with age, he does not have that capability anymore.
The glory days
Luis Suárez had been a prolific striker for a number of years before joining the blaugranas. At Ajax, El Pistolero was in sensational form. In his best season in Amsterdam, Suárez scored 35 goals in just 33 matches. It did not take long before talent like that was picked up by one of Europe’s top five leagues.
Liverpool managed to sign the promising striker in 2011 and Luis was on his way to England. It took him a season to find his feet and gain that form that first got him the move to Merseyside. His last campaign, in particular, was special, almost guiding Liverpool to their first Premier League in over two decades. In the 2013/14 season, Suárez recorded 31 goals in 33 fixtures in the league, helping him win the European Golden Shoe. He was also awarded the Premier League Player of the Season that year.
“For him not to be in the top three of the Ballon d’Or was incredible. He left Liverpool as a world-class player and he’s gone into a Barcelona team that was already up there and made them better”
former Liverpool coach on Luis Suárez
In the summer of 2014, Liverpool’s star striker moved to Barcelona for a reported €82.3 million. Nobody could have predicted just how well Suárez would fit into the team, particularly with Lionel Messi and Neymar Júnior. This front three formed possibly the most lethal attacking trio in the history of the sport. Their understanding, sharpness, eye for goal and unselfishness made them the most feared forwards in the world.
In the 2015/16 term, Luis Suárez scored 40 goals in La Liga, winning him his second European Golden Shoe. In all competitions, Suárez registered an incredible 59 goals that course and provided 24 assists in just 53 games. In total, through all his years at the Camp Nou, the Barça ace has scored 193 goals for the azulgranas with a further 109 assists. He has brought many moments of magic to culés over the years. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Luis Suárez is the greatest striker of his generation.
Decline in form
Over the last couple of seasons, however, there has been a clear drop in the standard of Luis Suárez at Barcelona. His goal contributions have been declining since the 2016/17 season, although his standards were very high. There is no question though that he has become less clinical in front of goal and does not get into scoring chances as often.
His work ethic off the ball has also dropped off significantly. This is both in pressing the opposition and making attacking runs. His fitness levels could be questioned too with it often being rumoured that he is playing through injury. Many fans also wonder why he plays the full 90 minutes when he seems to be so ineffective at times.
Does Quique Setién start Luis Suárez exclusively for tactical and qualitative reasons, or is the Uruguayan’s influence on and off the pitch too big to bench him? | Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno via Getty Images
Luis Suárez put in another lacklustre performance against Atlético de Madrid in the 2–2 draw on Tuesday night, something that has been occurring often this season. In total Luis managed one shot on target, 39 touches, 27 passes, zero successful dribbles, zero duels won and zero key passes. This is not the standard a Barcelona striker should be at.
In the 2019/20 La Liga, the 33-year-old averages 0.2 tackles, 2.9 shots, 0.9 dribbles and 1 key pass per game. He has been ineffective for the majority of the minutes he has been on the pitch this season. Furthermore, it must be considered if he is taking too many minutes away from other players due to his status in the dressing room and not based on merit.
Luis Suárez has been an incredible player at the Camp Nou. His talent and ability mixed with his determination to win has seen him become one of the greatest strikers ever in football. He will go down as one of Barcelona’s greats. As one of the top goalscorers still active, his record speaks for itself. Not only is Suárez and incredible finisher but he also assists many too. In an era of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, El Pistolero has won two European Golden Shoes.
Nevertheless, like with Xavi Hernández, Carles Puyol and Andrés Iniesta, he must consider if he can still give his all to the team. The former Barҫa legends knew when their time had come at the club and left gracefully. Luis Suárez is now at this stage and must either accept a much smaller role in the first team or look elsewhere for more minutes. The Catalan side are in desperate need of a rebuild, and especially in the number 9 position.
Who are FC Barcelona’s hardest workers?
Work rate is a crucial element in a successful football side, but which Barcelona players have put in the most effort this season?
While FC Barcelona has always been renowned for their technical ability and tactical intelligence of its players, their work rate on the pitch has also played a key role in the club’s greatest triumphs.
The concept is simple, but that does not detract from its importance. Players who track back to win the ball, make bursting runs to create space and passing angles, and constantly apply pressure out of possession are incredibly valuable.
While it may be impossible to quantify a player’s effort with full accuracy truly, the available data can still reveal some prominent trends. With that in mind, which Barcelona players put in the highest amount of work rate statistically?
First things first, time to establish a methodology. Using data from FBRef, the dataset will be filtered down to outfield players who have played five or more 90’s in one of the big five European leagues in the 2020/21 season. That means each player has at least a decent sample size under their belt, so there will not be anyone with only a few ten-minute appearances off the bench.
Then, which metrics can be used to quantify effort best? With the data available, it seems like the most viable option is to try and identify box-to-box players. For that, we can use the different areas of the pitch in which players take their touches.
Each player’s percentile rank for touches per 90 minutes in the defensive penalty area, defensive third, middle third, attacking third, and attacking penalty area was found. The average of those five percentiles became each player’s “attacking average.”
These averages were then scaled between 0 and 100 for the final “Offensive Coverage Rating.” This is how the top five came out for all clubs:
- Raphaël Guerreiro (Dortmund) – 100
- Jordi Alba (Barcelona) – 97.5
- Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 94.3
- Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) – 92.7
- Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid) – 92.4
Elsewhere in the top 20 are names like Andrew Robertson, Reece James, Luke Ayling of the intense Leeds United system, Ander Herrera, and Frenkie de Jong. There seems to a solid set of players who work their way up and down the pitch, either down the flank as full-backs or as energetic centre-midfielders.
How does the Barça squad stack up in particular?
As previously mentioned, the full-backs are the main standouts. The never-ending stamina of Jordi Alba is especially on display. Frenkie de Jong sits as the top non-full-back by a solid distance, reflecting his ability to drop deep in the buildup and provide dangerous runs forward.
A bit lower down the list, though, things start to look a bit weirder. It should be noted that this methodology can be a bit biased towards centre-backs. They rack up many touches in the defensive penalty area, defensive third, and middle third in a possession-based system, and the additional touches they get in the attacking penalty area off of corners and free-kicks can drive their scores pretty high.
Looking at Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite all the way at the bottom brings up another limitation. While we can track players who are active in many different areas of the pitch, we can not do the same for players who move and work a lot in the same area.
Watching Braithwaite and Griezmann definitely shows how active they are making runs in behind or across the attacking third, but because they do not drop off very often to pick up the ball, they rank low in the team.
However, those top names prove this offensive coverage metric is able to quantify box-to-box play in possession. Additionally, incorporating defensive metrics will clean things up even more.
On the other side of the ball, the process is very similar. The same players and methodology will be applied, only this time with pressures instead of touches.
StatsBomb, who collect the data displayed on FBRef, define pressure as, “…applying pressure to an opposing player who is receiving, carrying, or releasing the ball.” These pressures are just broken down based on the thirds of the pitch, not the penalty areas too, so only three metrics go into each player’s “defensive average.”
Once again, those averages are then scaled between 0 and 100, creating the “Defensive Coverage Ratings.” The top five performers in these ratings were:
- Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Lazio) – 100
- Mikkel Damsgaard (Sampdoria) – 98.1
- Leonardo Bittencourt (Werder Bremen) – 98.1
- Morgan Sanson (Marseille) – 98.0
- Maxence Caqueret (Lyon) – 97.2
Midfield workhorses like Fred and Adrien Silva, along with high-pressing forwards such as Diogo Jota are common throughout the rest of the top 25.
Given that Barcelona are a possession-heavy side, and one that often presses at a lower intensity, one would expect these defensive work-rate ratings to be a bit lower. Still, though, which players stand out?
Pedri comes out as the clear leader. Impressively, the teenager’s score is one that would be respectable in any side. Let it serve as just another testament to his work rate and ability to perform a variety of different tasks on the pitch.
With Sergio Busquets in second, even as he ages, he is still one of Barça’s most active players in terms of closing down the opposition. In third is another newcomer, as Sergiño Dest’s tendency to press aggressively puts him much higher than most of the other defenders in the squad.
The tallies for the other members of the backline are quite low because they defend in a more reserved nature. This can also be attributed to the fact that Barcelona give up fewer opportunities than many teams.
With both of these two ratings in place and some solid results for top-ranking players, it is time to combine them.
Here in the endgame, we will be combining all eight metrics to create one “Overall Coverage Rating.” That means touches in each third, touches in both penalty areas, and pressures in each third are all included. This way, we can see the players who cover most of the pitch overall.
The top five is comprised of:
- Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) – 100
- Ander Herrera (Paris Saint-Germain) – 99.3
- Bruno Guimarães (Lyon) – 97.6
- Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid) – 96.7
- Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 96.2
Idrissa Gana Gueye, Dani Carvajal, Joshua Kimmich, Renan Lodi, Arturo Vidal, Maxence Caqueret, Ezgjan Alioski, Pedri, Reece James, Mason Mount, and Mateusz Klich are among the top names as well.
Now, for the final Barcelona squad rankings:
The numbers still involve the same intricacies as those discussed for the separate offensive and defensive ratings, but at least the top five names seem to match an eye test evaluation of the squad.
Pedri has joined the team and impressed everyone with his work rate and movement. He will track an opposition runner back to the defensive third, win the ball, combine in midfield, and then get forward to be an outlet for Messi.
While not as youthful and agile, Busquets still serves as a metronome in the possession and an active defender. He will move and reposition to rack up touches in the deeper thirds and engages in defensive duels very often.
The right flank has been slightly ignored at times this season, leaving Dest isolated, but the American always brings energy. He has all the skills and the mentality to be a great modern full-back.
Dest’s counterpart on the left, Jordi Alba, performs a much greater portion of his work offensively. His countless runs down the left wing have made him a key target for through balls and switches of play over the last few seasons.
Lastly, Frenkie de Jong backs up his reputation as an all-round midfielder. This season, the Dutchman is settling in more at the Camp Nou, and his surging runs forward to the penalty area have been awe-inspiring as of late.
Rivaldo (on De Jong): "It is being shown that near the area it seems that he is capable of playing better as an offensive midfielder and that he can even play a role similar to what Messi does when the Argentine is away. This is great news for Koeman." pic.twitter.com/r8aIrdMWSg— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 15, 2021
Griezmann and Braithwaite are probably the hardest done by these metrics. However, their energy, work rate and volume of runs they can provide off the ball is noticeable when watching them play, and invaluable for Barcelona.
There is no perfect way to quantify how hard a player works in-game, especially with these limited statistics. What this attempted to do, though, is focus on effort in terms moving to a variety of areas, being as involved in the match as possible, and doing so in different ways.
While not perfect, this methodology was successful in identifying some of the busiest players in the side. It should serve as a reminder of the value these players, like Pedri or de Jong, can offer beyond even their brilliant technical ability.
Given that 32-year-old Sergio Busquets and 31-year-old Jordi Alba were also near the top, it is a reminder of the potential replacements the club will be forced to make eventually. How long can these two continue to exert energy at this level? Could younger players be doing even more in those roles? How will Barça fill those holes when they move on? These are questions that need answering.