Significant personnel changes can have profound impacts on organisations and football clubs are no different. Neymar’s exit has had multiple effects on Barcelona. From exposing their internal turmoil to key players stalling on contracts and from failed transfer bids to Messi’s continued brilliance, Barcelona fans have been on a roller-coaster even though the season is in its infancy. But one key player for Barcelona – Luis Suarez – has gone a bit under the radar in these initial games.
Luis Suarez injured his right knee in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup and was out for four weeks since then. Lionel Messi’s brilliance and an easy fixture list to start the season with kept the spotlight away from the Uruguayan. He returned after the international break to play in the Catalan derby against Espanyol and by his own admission, he had a mixed game. He did score a goal in the match, but he was not as fluent as Barcelona fans have grown accustomed to seeing him.
That performance against Espanyol and then another mixed outing against Juventus in the Champions League this week have prompted articles such as this, that claim that the new Barcelona boss Valverde wants to bench Suarez but Messi is not allowing it.
Indeed, even I started research for this piece assuming that I will find evidence to support the theory that Suarez will indeed be less influential in Barcelona than he has been for last three seasons. However, my research shows that he is on his way back and although the season has started slowly for him, he will score his usual boatload of goals this season as well. Let us take a look at the top three indications that Luis Suarez is not going to fade away anytime soon.
Luis Suarez’s Scoring Form
Generally, players returning from injury are a bit rusty and take time to get into the groove. For forwards, this means that their scoring accuracy and fluency takes a hit. Not so with Suarez. He has returned from his injury with great shooting and scoring form. Agreed, he has only scored only the last goal in that 5-0 drubbing of Espanyol, but he took up good positions in the match, and his shooting could only be kept out by the opponents’ defence.
Expected goals of 2.09 per 90 minutes will regress a bit as the season goes on but indicate high-quality shooting from Suarez. To put it into perspective, Suarez had xG of 1.02 in the 2015-16 season when he scored 40 goals and of just 0.75 during the last season. This means that even if this starting value regresses by 50%, he will still be expected to score just about a goal every match. Not the stats of someone who is fading.
His Chance Creation
One reason why people feel that he was not fluent in the derby was that his passing was seen as wayward. 75% pass accuracy, of course, does not seem like a Barcelona player. But, what is easily missed using these overall stats is the number of opportunities those 75% accurate passes created. Suarez created two shooting opportunities against Espanyol and had an expected assist per 90 minutes of 0.75. This means that there was a 75% chance of him supplying an assist in that game. That he ended up without an assist in the game is because his team members could not convert the chances he had created.
Messi’s Vote of Confidence
Barcelona’s board may be split and facing a vote of no confidence. But, if reports are to be believed their attack is a bit more united. As mentioned in one of the reports linked above, Messi has personally ensured that Suarez gets game time and does not get benched by an impatient Valverde. Suarez is a player who is bound to find form if he is given consistent game time, so even if you believe that he is underperforming, he is not getting dropped, which means that he will get his form back soon.
There are a few players in the football world who should never be written off. Luis Suarez definitely belongs to that group. If he is not satisfied with a performance which, at least statistically was reasonably satisfactory then La Liga teams better watch out for the El Pistolero when he starts firing on all cylinders.