Luis Suarez’s recent brace against Inter gave Barcelona three big Champions League points. Against the Scudetto contenders of Italy, any win would be huge. Especially considering the group both sides are currently in.
But few took notice of was Suarez’s record. This was the Uruguayan’s first Champions League brace since he got one against Atletico Madrid in the 2015-16 season in the Round of the 16 of the competition.
That season, alongside Neymar and Lionel Messi, Suarez scored eight times in nine Champions League games for Barcelona.
The brace against Antonio Conte’s men was also the first time since the 2016-17 season that the striker has scored more than one goal in a single Champions League season.
A closer look at these numbers will lead to the emergence of a pattern. One relates to Neymar and Suarez’s ability to perform in trios. Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2017 and since the 2016-17 season, Suarez’s goals output has reduced.
From scoring 40 times in the 2015-16 La Liga season to having that number fall to 25 and 21 in the last two seasons- the decline is very clear.
What is even more interesting is his 2013-14 season with Liverpool. Suarez performed in a trio of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling in that campaign under Brendan Rodgers. The Reds nearly won the Premier League title, but Suarez’s individual numbers were astounding.
Under Rodgers, the former Ajax man had scored 31 times 33 Premier League games. He had assisted 17 times too, as the trio caused havoc in the Premier League. Liverpool ended up scoring as many as 101 goals that season.
The pattern that emerges shows that Suarez thrives in playing alongside two teammates who are playing at their best. It isn’t to say that he doesn’t perform otherwise, but the 32-year-old’s best has been seen in trios.
Ever since Neymar left, Barca have been struggling to nail down a trio in attack. While Suarez and Messi have been constants, Ousmane Dembele has never become a regular. Philippe Coutinho’s move didn’t go well and finds himself on a loan deal at Bayern Munich.
Dembele has missed 46 games due to injury since he came to the Nou Camp. He has always shown glimpses of quality, but his attitude issues have seen him get sidelined more often than he would like.
Malcom did sign from Bordeaux last summer, but he is now at Zenit in Russia. The Brazilian left this past summer.
Clearly, attempts have been made to integrate Suarez into a trio upfront. But Barca’s poor recruitment has not helped them whatsoever. The club was looking to get Neymar back, but the Brazilian’s injury record isn’t better than Dembele’s.
Neymar has missed 58 games due to injury at PSG– a bigger number than Dembele’s. It again, highlights how badly planned Barca’s approach to recruiting a third attacking player has been.
Having said that, the summer of 2017 also coincides with the arrival of Ernesto Valverde at Barca. The former Athletic Bilbao manager has been questioned tactically many times, specifically in how Barca have been eliminated from the Champions League over the last two years.
That hasn’t helped at all either. And at the age of 32, Suarez isn’t the quickest either. He was known to be a hardworking striker, but slowly the pangs of age are sure to catch up.
Barca have been linked with a move for Inter’s Lautaro Martinez. That will make perfect sense, considering how Lautaro is pretty much a workhorse striker like a younger Suarez was. He is 22 and will hit his peak in the next 2-3 years.
At 32, Barca have to make sure that they don’t record too big a loss in Suarez’s deal. From this age on, the former Liverpool man’s value will only decrease. And the time will soon be right for Barca to pull the plug.