Barcelona have been blessed with some of the best centre-forwards in history, from Hristo Stoichov to the Brazilian Ronaldo, down to Samuel Eto’o, even David Villa who was shunted out to the left side in order to accommodate Lionel Messi in the false nine position. And now, we have Luis Suarez, who has been an absolute beast since he joined from Liverpool after the 2014 World Cup.
However, as he himself has said, he is 31-years-old now and cannot play forever. So, it would be wise for the club to start looking for his replacement. This is, of course, is easier said than done as Suarez’s performances since he joined Barcelona have been nothing short of phenomenal. He’s scored over 160 goals for Barcelona in a period of just four years.
It will be difficult, to say the least, to replace such numbers. But then, as already shown here at Barcelona analysis, Suarez offers so much more than just goals and a replacement would have to do just that.
This article will examine the players I think Barcelona’s hierarchy should be looking at in their quest to replace one of the best centre-forwards of the past 10 years. To do this we will look at several factors such as goal scoring, general team play, expected compatibility with Barcelona’s tactical system and the possibility of acquisition.
To this end, Griezmann has been removed from consideration due to the fact that he has only recently signed a six-year extension with Atletico Madrid despite heavy interest from Barcelona during the summer. With the above criteria, I locked on to three players that Barcelona should look to sign when they do decide to replace Luis Suarez.
Currently playing for RB Leipzig, Timo Werner has all that it takes to succeed at the highest level. Despite being only 22 years of age, the German forward has established himself as a big part of Leipzig’s success so far in the top flight of German football and is set to become the top striker for the German national team.
Werner is capable of playing across the front three with his ability to terrorise opposition defences with pure pace. In Leipzig’s first season in Bundesliga, they were set up mostly as a counter-attacking side with intense pressing.
Werner was a big part of that as his willingness to constantly chase and obstruct the opposition’s build-up in the first phase of possession was integral to Leipzig’s tactical success. This will serve Barcelona well as their reputation for the high press in renowned and though Suarez is always willing, he is not always able especially in the latter stages of matches.
This, coupled with Messi’s tendency to “walk” is a factor in Ernesto Valverde’s more conservative approach without the ball as he would rather have his two forwards conserve their strength for the attacking moments. This does work, but against teams that play a patient build-up game and have the technical ability to keep the ball.
Barcelona might find themselves unable to impose themselves on the game like in the last league match against Rayo Vallecano. Werner has excess pace to burn and would be an excellent addition to increasing the effectiveness of Barcelona’s press. But Werner is not just a defensive forward, he is also very strong in 1v1 situations, something that Suarez seems to have lost in recent years.
Werner’s goal-scoring statistics are impressive. Since the 2016/2017 season when Leipzig made their debut in the Bundesliga, the German striker has scored 40 goals and made a further 13 assists, showing his ability to both put the ball in the back of the net and still create for his teammates.
Another factor in his favour is his young age. At 22, Werner has a lot of football left in him and an incredibly high ceiling to approach in terms of development and ability. As Barcelona look to a time without Suarez, Werner should be one of the top names on their wish list.
Roberto Firmino of Liverpool is also one player that Barcelona could look at as they consider potential replacements for Luis Suarez. The Brazilian is as selfless as they come with regards to centre-forwards and in some ways even plays as a kind of number 10.
His propensity and ability to drop deep and aid in the build-up is currently unrivalled, even by Olivier Giroud at Chelsea. He is excellent in tight spaces, has amazing close control, dribbling, and passing ability. And he scores, too! Firmino has never been “prolific” in the true sense of the word, but he acts a perfect foil and an enabler to more goal-oriented teammates.
This was especially evident last season as he was an integral part of Liverpool’s tactical system that enabled Mohammed Salah to score so many goals. But not being prolific does not mean that he doesn’t score and since the 2016/2017 season, Firmino has scored 29 goals and made a further 16 assists in the premier league; that’s a direct goal involvement of 45 goals in three seasons.
The Brazilian is an accomplished finisher with technical excellence and an imaginative ability to improvise as evident by his “no look” goals. Apart from going forward, Firmino is also a very intelligent first presser, constantly using his cover shadow to press two opponents at once and prevent the opposition from building up easily.
He is such an important part of Liverpool’s famous high press and is also extremely aware of the moments when Liverpool might lose the ball in order to start the immediate counter press and prevent the opposition from breaking out.
These are qualities any Barcelona player should have and Firmino has them in abundance. If Barcelona does sign him, he will not be an exact replacement for Luis Suarez but will offer something slightly different. The bonus here is that he has the potential to combine well with Messi, perhaps even to the level that Suarez has.
Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane is probably the best centre-forward in the world. Having come through the ranks at Tottenham Hotspurs, the Englishman has established himself for club and country with his excellent goal scoring ability.
Kane has been linked multiple times with a move to Spain, but those links have always been to Real Madrid. However, as Barcelona search for Suarez’s replacement, they’ll definitely have their eye on the Spurs captain. Of the three players on this shortlist, he is the only one whose statistics rival those of Barcelona’s current centre-forward, Luis Suarez.
With 65 goals and 13 assists since the 2016/2017 season, Harry Kane is one of the most prolific strikers in the world, but he does more than just score. He may not look it, but Kane is an excellent passer of the ball and though he is not the most graceful dribbler, neither is Suarez, at least not anymore.
Kane has the qualities of a “traditional” centre-forward: Big, strong, and good in the air. But under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, he has developed other aspects of his game to a high level, something which even Sergio Ramos acknowledged. His appreciation of space is to a high level and this has allowed him to switch between a number nine and a number ten mid-game in a bid to both confuse the opposition and perhaps find more space, as was the case in their recent Champions League game against Barcelona at Wembley.
He does not have the blistering pace of Timo Werner, or the refined ability in tight spaces that Firmino possesses, but he is a far better goal-scorer than both of them and is still technically proficient enough to thrive at Barcelona.
Harry Kane is the striker who is most like Suarez. If Barcelona seek a direct, like for like replacement for the Uruguayan, then Kane is the player they should sign. However, procuring the striker from Tottenham is easier said than done especially considering his importance to the club. Kane is likely to go for an astronomical, probably even a world record fee. And apart from monetary considerations, there’s also the matter of convincing the player to leave his hometown club.
As earlier noted, Barcelona have had some of the best strikers in football history. Luis Suarez is one of the best number nines in the world and has been so for several years now, so replacing him will not be an easy task.
The players on my shortlist represent those that I consider being the best bets based on several considerations, especially on a tactical level. So, as we look towards a post-Luis Suarez world, perhaps one of these players will the next to wear our famous number nine jersey.