Luis Suarez’s equalizing goal for Liverpool against Newcastle last weekend was a thing of beauty. The chest control, the fake to send Krul the wrong way and the finish would, had it been scored by anyone else in the history of the game, probably result in a goal of the season accolade. It's no wonder that Manchester City are considering throwing some spare change in the direction of Liverpool for the Uruguayan's services.
Since that strike, Brendan Rodgers has compared him to Messi (cringe), David Beckham has squeaked that he is ‘amazing’ (double cringe) and a prominent Manchester United blogger said that he simply ‘can’t finish.’
So, like a tramp at a bag of sliced King Edwards, and because I’m sat here waiting for an electrician and a plumber, I thought I’d have a butcher's at some statistics to find out the truth about Suarez by looking at his numbers and comparing them to that of four other strikers who have scored either a similar amount of goals or been on the pitch for a similar amount of time.
Except in the goals column, on initial reading it looks bad for Suarez. A chance conversion rate of 14% is the worst on the list (for the record Rooney is currently on 11%) but there are certain factors that have to be taken into consideration. Apart from Ba, who yesterday played as the central striker of a forward three (with Cabaye also staying in contact), all of the other strikers here are either backed up by three players behind them in a 4-2-3-1 (Defoe, RVP) or played as the support striker (Tevez). Where RVP could latch onto a fine ball from Rooney to score against Arsenal on Saturday, Suarez often has to drop deep and get the ball, turn and try and beat at least one defender before shooting. That he shoots too often and misses plenty is a given, but I also believe it to be a direct result of both the formation and players behind / alongside him.
At one point yesterday, Suarez broke down the left and was faced with four
players between him and the goal and not one Liverpool player in front of him. He wriggled into the box and shot from a ridiculous angle with his left foot. The commentators screamed that he should have dinked it to Suso at the back post, which perhaps he should, but can you blame him for getting his head down and trying to force the issue with such poor support?
Secondly, despite their respective talents, Sahin and Gerrard do not get beyond Suarez as often as they should. They key to making a false nine position work is, that when the 9 drops deep or goes wide, players have to get in front of him to create both passing angles and space for the nine to drive into. For all of Liverpool’s good play yesterday in the first fifteen minutes, most of the chances arrived from crosses after Suarez had sent Sterling away down the left.
Overall, Suarez has taken 33% of Liverpool’s shots and scored 63% of their goals. Only Ba (30.3% and 58%) gets close here, with RVP (19% and 32%), Defoe (25% and 31%) and Tevez (16% and 22%) benefitting from playing with better players.
It really is that simple. Suarez is, increasingly, a one-man band. While any Liverpool supporter with a brain will tell you that, at times, his decision-making has been poor when better-placed teammates are screaming for the ball, he is often battling defences on his own. The improvement needs to come as a team. Against teams who play a high line, Sterling has had success making diagonal runs across the face and being released by Suarez. Against a deeper defence such as Newcastle’s yesterday he was restricted to the flank. What then happens is, that as chances get missed, Suarez’s frustration grows and he becomes even more myopic. Secondly, the Liverpool team is disjointed at present with Lucas unavailable. With him back and another wide player / striker added, it is highly likely that Suso will drop back to compete for a midfield place and Allen will push forward into one of the higher midfield slots, which will hopefully result in better, and crucially quicker, support of Suarez.
Clear Cut Chances
In this column you can ignore the percentage and look only at the figures. When Suarez has been in a position where he should definitely score, he has missed five and netted three, which is essentially the same ratio as RVP scoring four and missing six. I am not for one minute saying that Suarez is in the same league as RVP as a finisher, only that to truly judge a player you have to look at the statistics AND the mitigating factors.
To conclude, Suarez is perhaps the most exciting player to watch in the league at the moment. He misses shedloads of chances but never, ever, gives up and will try as hard in the 90th minute as the first. He never lacks the courage to try the impossible and without him Liverpool would be playing footsie with QPR, Reading and Southampton.
That said, he can definitely improve. It’s clear that he doesn’t always trust other teammates, which on one hand is understandable because he is desperate to win, on the other dangerous because you can become isolated and seen as selfish. With better players around him, it is almost certain that he wouldn't feel the need to shoot from parts unknown and would also be less rushed in front of goal as he wouldn't feel that he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. The biggest problem is this. If Liverpool screw up the January transfer window, not only will they be staring down the barrel of a lowest league finish in donkeys years, but also at the prospect of losing Suarez at the end of the season.
While I’m not suggesting Real or Barca would be in for him, you can bet your house that plenty of big European sides who can offer both Champions League football and a collection of players on his level would be happy to shell out £30m to secure his talents. Rodgers has said Liverpool need three years to be in a position to challenge Chelsea, United and Manchester City. To keep Suarez, he needs to convince the board they have to buy intelligently in January and cut this target in half or they will be back to square one.
All stats featured in this piece are taken from the EPL index