The game of Barcelona striker Luis Suárez hasn’t been good enough for some time, and his decline seems obvious. Let’s delve into what’s wrong for the Uruguayan.
Being a striker is the easiest yet the most demanding job in the world. This type of players needs to have many physical attributes, like blistering pace, outstanding jumping reach or fantastic dribbling. However, they are always the focal point of teams, fed through relentlessly by their teammates, and they get most of the recognition for their team’s successes.
At Barcelona, the strikers should be mobile, smart and lethal in front of goal, primarily when the play is so much focused on a striker’s ability. The strikers that have worked in the culés‘ system have fit like a glove because they all possessed the attributes needed to play in such a demanding system. The likes of Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi or Luis Suárez have all played centrally at some point for Barça, and have all tasted success as the focal point of the squad in their illustrious careers.
Luis Suárez was one of the best strikers ever to stick the ball in the back of the net for the Catalans, with his clinical finishing, intelligent movement and some mesmerising dribbling. The Uruguayan striker from 2015 was one of the best, and the foraminous fee the blaugranas spent on him proved judicious. That striker scored left, right and centre for Barça, in the league, the Cup and the Champions League, with some iconic moments like scoring the winning goal in El Clásico, nutmegging David Luiz against Paris Saint-Germain, making Medhi Benatia spin in a European semi-final, or scoring four and assisting three against Deportivo de la Coruña, winning the Pichichi award in the process.
From 2015 to 2018, nothing could stop Suárez, and his numbers didn’t really take a hit after that. Of course, he got 21 goals in the 2018/19 term and currently is Barcelona’s second top scorer in the league having missed two to three months of the season. These stats are impressive enough to think that, even at 33, Suárez is still one of the best strikers in the world. But Suárez is not the same, and he will never be the same again.
It seems like he has lost most of what made him special in the past: his movement, his footballing skills and his finishing. Against Atlético de Madrid on Tuesday, his game was disappointing, not to say abysmal. A far cry from his 2015 days, Luis had one shot on goal, lost possession eight times and did no create anything. His movement was also below-par for any centre-forward, not even a world-class one.
Luis Suárez seems to have lost his sharpness, his ruthlessness, his fitness | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
When Suárez ever played in 2015, defences hated facing a pace demon who was clinical and terrorised them to death. When he plays now, though, it is like seeing the shadow of the old Uruguayan killer. No movement, no dribbles, no nothing. Against Atleti, he showed nothing. He did nothing. It was sad to see this decline. What was more disturbing was that Quique Setién kept him on the pitch for the full game.
Now, his league numbers have been decent enough, but his Champions League stats have been extremely poor. As a starter for Barça, the former Liverpool star scored one goal in the 2018/19 Champions League, not deserving his place in the team whatsoever. This season he was decent enough in the early stages. Scoring a screamer against Inter Milan and another goal against Borussia Dortmund made it look like he had found his mojo back. But generally, his contributions have only lied in his goals, adding little more outside them.
His primary purpose should be to drag the defence away and create space for others, just like he used to do. But lately Suárez has done nothing to bother the opposition backlines whatsoever. This has been the story in recent matches, and even his performance against Celta de Vigo wasn’t good enough. While his two goals were splendid, there was no movement again. When he did some proper off-ball movement, he scored the second goal of the game, but then still nothing else.
“Often I’m hard on myself for not doing things well. Not just when not scoring goals, I hate doing things which damage the team, like losing possession of the ball in a way I’d never normally do. When that happens, it’s what worries me the most. Also when I make bad decisions, the kind of mistake that when you’re confident, you don’t make”
Suárez’s decline is sad, and arguably he doesn’t deserve to be a starter for Barcelona right now. He isn’t playing like a number 9 who has earned his chances, especially when he does not contribute to crunch times and essential fixtures. The current Barcelona attack is toothless and will always be toothless when two players are passive in defensive phases and when one still doesn’t move in offensive stages.
Suárez walks for the large majority of the game, and the pressing this team does gets cancelled out by the little work from the two main stars upfront. One is Lionel Messi, the greatest, and his offensive outcome is not negligible. But Suárez’s numbers and attacking performances are not good enough to warrant him walking, and it is clear he cannot sustain running like a madman anymore.
The Uruguayan’s decline in recent years is tragic for all parties. The fans hate it, the club suffers from it, and the player just keeps receiving criticism after nearly every clash. Luis Suárez’s legacy should not be tarnished this way, and possibly he shouldn’t be a regular starter for Barcelona anymore.
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.