Earlier today, Luis Suarez received the “Golden Boot” award, as the highest scorer in European league play for the 2013-2014 campaign. Since that ultra-successful season for Liverpool FC, Suarez’ life has taken quite a few turns. He’s become the most hated man in soccer (with the exception of Sepp Blatter), apologized, been suspended from playing for club and country, and been sold to FC Barcelona.
As Suarez sits out his FIFA-sanctioned ban, he continues to train with his new teammates, attends games form the stands, and waits – patiently – for the chance to take the pitch.
The team, as it turns out, has had a pretty good season so far. In La Liga, Barcelona is undefeated with zero goals having been scored against them. Claudio Bravo has been perfect thus far, mostly due to an increased defensive intensity in front of him thanks to Mathieu and Mascherano. The story of their wins, however, is similar to what it has been in previous years. A balanced attack from left and right combined with a high-posession offense where 47% of possession is in the middle third compared to 35% in the attacking third.
All of this is great news for the world’s best striker – but how does he fit in to the team?
Barcelona regularly employs a 4-3-3 formation, featuring Messi in the center of attack with left and right wings. Neymar clearly holds down the left wing – his 7 goals in as many games showing why he was so highly valued a year ago. This leaves the right side – an area currently occupied by a varied group of players – Pedro (generally a left wing), Munir (more of a natural striker), and Sandro (also more of a traditional striker) – all talented and capable.
The right side presents an interesting situation with Barça’s current setup. Dani Alves, right back for several years now, is a back on name only. He’s willingness and openness to move forward into the midfield and beyond helps load up the attacking third when Barça has possession. Rakitic, usually on the right side of the midfield, possesses a Xavi-esce sense for positioning and passing (he often starts games and Xavi subs in for him), allowing interplay between he and Dani Alves to lead up to Messi in the middle and Pedro/Munir/Sandro on the right wing. With these players, the “tiki-taki” triangles are prevalent, and allow players easy advancement into space and movement off the ball.
One would expect that a world-class striker like Suarez would fit nicely here. Ready made triangles with a forward-pushing back in Alves, a patient passer in Rakitic, and the best player in the world (who I would argue is the best playmaker in the offensive third) would seem to be perfect for a deadly finisher. You can almost visualize Alves passing into Messi who dribbles past two defenders and chips forward a pass to a cutting Suarez who fires it into the upper 90.
To me, however, the problem is that finish. Barça, unlike many other teams, doesn’t park a striker in front of goal waiting for crosses or entry passes. They attack wide with the final through ball pulling Messi/mids rushing up the middle in a jail-break towards the goal.
Can Suarez play the ball, play possession, ASSIST!? Or must he constantly be the finisher to all that the team builds up.
In his Golden Boot campaign, Suarez scored 31 goals, but totaled only 12 assists. For a player so greatly involved in Liverpool’s attack, that’s very one-sided. At Barcelona, Suarez will be asked to not only finish in front of the net, but also attack with his head up – looking for the cutting Neymar, Messi, Iniesta, et al.
Suarez’ first action for FCB will be Sat. October 25th – poetically against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. I’d expect him to come on in the second half – when we’ll find out if he indeed can play as part of the team.