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The palpable decline of Luis Suárez

The decline of Luis Suárez over the years has been clear and should be translated into the manager’s decisions

Alexandre Patanian



Header Image by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce via Getty Images

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 Barcelona decline

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”

Luis Suárez
in 2017

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.

See more

• Starting Luis Suárez: Do the negatives outweigh the positives?

La Liga over? Analysing the chances of Barça turning the lead around

• Iván Rakitić: Why is he always so valued by managers?

• Tactical analysis: Barcelona 2–2 Atlético de Madrid

As a Lebanese teenager who never had the chance to support their local team, I fell in love with the club that was FC Barcelona at the start of the decade. I always was passionate about writing and this is exactly what I am looking for: sharing my insights and opinions on football.



Who are FC Barcelona’s hardest workers?

Samuel Gustafson



Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

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?

Offensive effort

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:

  1. Raphaël Guerreiro (Dortmund) – 100
  2. Jordi Alba (Barcelona) – 97.5
  3. Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 94.3
  4. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) – 92.7
  5. 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?

barcelona work rate

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.

Defensive effort

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:

  1. Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Lazio) – 100
  2. Mikkel Damsgaard (Sampdoria) – 98.1
  3. Leonardo Bittencourt (Werder Bremen) – 98.1
  4. Morgan Sanson (Marseille) – 98.0
  5. 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?

barcelona work rate

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.

barcelona work rate

The top five is comprised of:

  1. Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) – 100
  2. Ander Herrera (Paris Saint-Germain) – 99.3
  3. Bruno Guimarães (Lyon) – 97.6
  4. Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid) – 96.7
  5. 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:

barcelona work rate

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.

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.

Final thoughts

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.

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