Barcelona’s team is going through a volatile season in terms of performance and results, both when they were under coach Ernesto Valverde, and since Quique Setién took over the job last January.
But the team still has the best-attacking line in the La Liga competition this season after scoring 63 goals, including Luis Suárez’s 18 goal contributions with 11 goals and assisting seven to his colleagues.
Through this tactical analysis, we will try to review what the Uruguayan player has provided tactically and statistically with his team this season, even though he has been absent for 15 matches because of injuries.
As we said earlier, Luis Suárez is one of the players who had an extremely positive effect on his team in attacking effectiveness, with an expected goal (xG) value of 0.74 per game this season in La Liga, a notable improvement when compared to last season when he had an expected goal (xG) value of 0.69 per game.
Luis Suárez is the third on the list of best-attacking players this season behind Lionel Messi, his teammate, and Karim Benzema, Real Madrid’s player, and this is because of his style as a sharp striker and Barcelona’s no. 9.
With Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez made up the duo in Barcelona attacking line under coach Ernesto Valverde, as well as when Quique Setién took over the job, whether the system was a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2. One of his biggest strengths is his intelligent movement, as we will see in the next examples.
Here we can see the positioning of Luis Suárez on the far post when the ball was with Lionel Messi on the right flank. The Uruguayan international moves horizontally to find the blind area behind Inter Milan’s defence, and he gave his teammate an option to send the pass and penetrate the opposition’s backline.
Here we can see that when Lionel Messi passed the ball to Arturo Vidal, Luis Suárez immediately dropped off to offer an additional passing channel, and this intelligence gave him the chance to score the goal after a cross. His first-time shot was brilliant and with bad awareness from Inter Milan‘s defence, where no-one gets forward to intercept the ball, Barcelona level things up at the Camp Nou.
Suárez creates 0.85 goals per game and is one of the most successful players in La Liga’s attacking lines. But he is much more than just a regular striker as he is known for dropping deep and holding onto the ball as well as going forward to the penalty area of the opponent teams, as we can see in the heat map of his movements.
Here we can see the main places he always moves to. Note his tendency to occupy the half-space on the left, zone 14, and the area inside the box of the opponent. The Uruguayan swaps positions with sharpness and moves vertically or horizontally to receive or carry it forward.
Here when the ball was with Lionel Messi again on the right flank in Barcelona’s attacking transition, we can keep an eye on Luis Suárez. We can see him moving vertically to get forward as an option in counter-attack, searching for the spaces with his advantage against all of the defensive line that are only closely monitoring the player who carries the ball.
Luis Suárez exploited the spaces between Diego Godín and Stefan de Vrij, where he can get one-on-one situations with the goalkeeper, regardless of the score, and we notice his ability to position himself and receive the ball in the last third, enabling him to make a difference.
Besides his great finishing style, he can be playmaker too, he has expected assist (xA) 0.47 per game and is only behind his teammate Lionel Messi within the squad, with seven assists in La Liga competition this season.
Luis Suárez could be an option in the final third because of his awareness with movement and his potential on-the-ball, go on flanks to be a free man, and to make the space for other players, as we will see in the next example.
When the ball was with Arturo Vidal on the right flank, Suárez gets forward to the half-spaces, between Deportivo Alavés defence, to receive the through pass.
Luis Suárez made a back-pass toward Antione Griezmann, but his escaping to the flank created the space, and because of his movement it took the defender of Alavés Rodrigo Ely who tried to press on the Uruguayan to take the ball.
Considering that Luis Suárez is a traditional number 9 in the squad with some extra responsibilities, he also has a defensive role in Barcelona’s tactics.
Considering that Suárez is the team’s striker, he is also the team’s first defender in case of losing the ball as he’ll be trying to return it to Barcelona again.
High pressure must be applied, either to the central defence in the opposing team or to the player starting the build-up, for Barcelona to apply their usual philosophy of recovering the ball quickly within seconds.
Since Luis Suarez is the first defender of Barcelona, we will try to explain his role in the team’s defensive composition when he tries to pressure the opponent and cut the ball, as we will see in the next example.
Here we can see the Real Sociedad team in the stage of build-up and the ball is with one of the central defending players, while we see Barcelona in their traditional 4-4-2 defensive structure.
The pressure process starts from the middle third of the field with an attempt to close the ball channels, and from there we see that the Uruguayan is next to Lionel Messi and they are in charge of applying pressure first.
Here, with the continued application of pressure by the team as a group, led by Suárez in the first line, it is difficult for the attacking team to advance the ball, forcing them to resort to vertical and risky football, from which Barcelona regain control of possession again.
This season in La Liga, Suárez participated in 17 games and put pressure on the opponent 162 times, most of which were in the final or middle third of the stadium.
We should highlight his attempts in the final third since that is, after all, his main task in the defensive phase as he managed to retrieve 23 balls high up the pitch. We can see how the Uruguayan striker took advantage of them in the next picture.
Here we can see how he took advantage of those balls that he recovered in the final third of the field this season in the league, where seven balls were shots against the opponents’ goal, four of which hit the target and 10 of them happened in the “zone 14” area.
The Uruguayan contributes little to the defence but becomes influential when he plays this role, which is what we will see during the next example.
Here we observe the ball with Lionel Messi in the penalty area of Deportivo Alavés with Luis Suárez in a long line with his teammate in an attempt to follow the attack and provide support, or even receive the ball in an empty area.
Here we notice when the ball was cut from Messi by Rodrigo Ely, we will see a distinct reaction from Luis Suárez in the penalty area by interfering, cutting the ball again, and playing the ball towards Griezmann. We will find that he has sharpness in cutting the ball as soon as it is lost, due to his good positioning.
Suárez is among the most important players within the Barcelona system as a team that has a clear offensive effect and has a defensive role, but his performance in general and defence, in particular, is marred by some problems.
When we talk about the weaknesses in the performances of Luis Suárez at Barcelona, especially for this season, we find that he does not know how to perform his defensive role well.
This is simply because simply when Barcelona lose the ball or even plays against a team that is good at possession, it means that they defend without Lionel Messi, meaning they lose a player in their defensive structure, and Luis Suárez shares the same idea with his teammate, as he does not participate in the defensive process without the ball.
The role of Suárez ends once the opposing team exits the ball from their area as he does not fall back to the first third and has a very low ball recovery rate of 1.8 per game despite the fact that we have concluded he can be quite effective at intercepting. We will notice the reason in the next example.
We note in the above picture when the Real Sociedad team reached the final third of the field in the Barcelona area, there was a superiority in numbers for the hosts with 9 against 8, and this is because Suárez remained next to Messi in the front area.
With age and many injuries this season, Suárez’s performance was greatly affected as he missed games in all competitions due to an injury.
Luis Suárez made a total of blocks only twice from a total 15 attempts, and from here we can determine that he does not perform his defensive role well most of the time, and we will see this during the next example.
Here we see the ball in the feet of the Real Sociedad players in the defensive third of Barcelona, with Suárez close by, but we note that he didn’t press the opposing player, while the latter behaves very comfortably with the ball and changes the direction of play to the right side.
Luis Suárez used to be in the formation of Barcelona regardless of the tactical ideas of the team, and when we monitor his presence within this analysis, we are not talking about weaknesses in the literal sense of the word, but we can claim it in the sense that he plays his defensive role with some laziness at times.
In this scout report, we tried to showcase Luis Suárez’s great offensive capabilities, with his role in defensive shape, besides the things that the team suffers from due to some problems in the profile of the player.
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