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.
Using Machine Learning to predict Barcelona’s 2021/22 league season
Johan Cruyff famously said, “I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.” It is indisputable that money is not the only deciding factor behind a football club’s success. Time and time again, we have seen that football is chaotic and absurd. Anything can happen.
That being said, it is evident that statistically, the clubs with more money are usually the more successful ones. While one cannot predict the unpredictability that is engraved within football, an outcome that is statistically probable can be predicted. This article will explore the relationship between the points a club accumulates in a league season and the total value of the club’s squad. Then, Python will be used to build a linear regression model in order to predict the number of points Barcelona will obtain in the 21/22 season based on the club’s hypothetical squad.
Let us begin with visualizing the relationship between the total league points obtained by a club and the club’s total squad value. Since the amount of money spent on transfers has increased tremendously over the course of the last decade, in this article, only seasons 2014/15 – 2019/20 will be considered. Upon plotting the total points against the total squad value, it is evident that there is a positive correlation between the two. Granted, the correlation is not extremely strong, but it exists nonetheless.
A line of regression has been generated. The line’s gradient is approximately 0.05138986, and its y-intercept is approximately 44.5470726. There is only one dependant variable in question, club value/total value of squad, and so our line of regression can be modelled by the equation:
P = (0.05138986 )V + 44.5470726 where P is the points and V is the total squad value.
club_values = np.array(df['Values']).reshape(89,1) club_points = np.array(df['Point']).reshape(89,1) from sklearn.linear_model import LinearRegression linear_model = LinearRegression() linear_model.fit(club_values,club_points)
In order to predict the points accumulated based on Barcelona’s squad value next season, the squad value won’t directly be inputted into our equation above. The coefficient and the y-intercept have been rounded up after a certain number of decimal places, and so, to preserve the precision of the prediction, Python’s LinearRegression predict method will be utilized.
Now comes another challenging part of coming up with Barcelona’s hypothetical squad next season. Based on reports, it can be assumed that Samuel Umtiti, Miralem Pjanic, Martin Braithwaite and Phillipe Coutinho will be some of the notable players to leave. To compensate for the outgoing players, it can be assumed that Barcelona will sign Eric Garcia, David Alaba, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay. Here is a table that contains all the players in Barcelona’s hypothetical 21/22 squad and their corresponding market values:
|PLAYER NAME||MARKET VALUE (MILLION POUNDS)|
|MARC ANDRE TER STEGEN||79.34|
|FRENKIE DE JONG||84.63|
|KONRAD DE LA FUENTE||2.64|
The club’s total value comes up to be £786.60 million. It is important to note that a player’s value is volatile. Transfermarkt updates player values every few months, and so it is extremely probable that this squad’s market value will be drastically different next season.
It is also important to understand that Transfermarkt’s market values are not official and so they are not always an accurate representation of a player’s true market value. Moreover, a player’s value is not always an accurate representation of their quality. Age is a key factor in determining market value, and so while a young player might have a high market value indicating that they are a bright prospect for the future, they might not necessarily be an excellent player at the time when the value is assigned.
Now that all of this has been established, the only thing left is making the prediction.
The machine learning model predicts that Barcelona will obtain 85 points in the 21/22 La Liga season. In the 19/20 season, Real Madrid won the league with 87 points, and in the 18/19 season, Barcelona won the league with 87 points as well. The difference between the points accumulated by the last two winning La Liga squads and the predicted points that Barcelona’s 21/22 squad will obtain is a mere 2 points. This shows that it is possible for Barcelona to win the league next season.
Since the correlation between the two variables, as observed from the data from the last 6 seasons, is not even close to being extremely strong, Barcelona’s 21/22 league points tally may be drastically different from what was predicted by the machine learning model. However, at the end of the day, the model can only work with the data it is exposed to.
Erling Haaland can change the course of Barcelona’s season. It would take forever to make predictions based on Barcelona’s hypothetical squads that include all of the club’s potential transfer targets, however, due to Haaland’s influence, an exception can be made for him. Laporta’s interest in signing Haaland has been widely reported.
However, he will cost a fortune this summer, and with Barcelona’s debt situation, it is unlikely that the Catalan club will pursue him in the upcoming transfer window. That being said like mentioned previously in the article, football is chaotic, and anything can happen.
Assuming that Barcelona does end up signing Haaland in the summer, Antoine Griezmann will most definitely have to leave (due to wages and the money that can be generated from his sale). Haaland’s current value is £99 million, and so Barcelona’s total squad value for next season, after being corrected for Griezmann’s exit and Haaland’s arrival is £831.60 million.
Haaland’s addition can put 21/22 Barcelona on level with the previous two Spanish champions in terms of total points won. The difference in points between a squad containing Haaland and one not containing him is only two. However, an argument about whether signing Haaland is worth it, is not in the scope of this article.
“Transition seasons do not exist at Barcelona.”Joan Laporta | Presidential campaign
A club of Barcelona’s stature will always compete for titles. The machine learning model shows that Barcelona is in contention for the 2021/22 La Liga title. Ronald Koeman has done a splendid job at the Blaugrana club this season, and there is no logical reason for him to not do an even better job next season after getting fresh players in the summer.
While football at its core is unpredictable, statistically, it would not hurt to trust Barcelona to win the 2021/22 La Liga title.