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Luis Suárez

Barcelona to Atlético Madrid, €6m

Atlético Madrid signed one of the finest players of the modern era when, even at the age of 33, they secured what appeared to be the bargain €6m arrival of Luis Suárez from Barcelona. He may no longer be quite the player who once succeeded Steven Gerrard as Liverpool’s most influential figure and who contributed so much to a devastating Barcelona front line alongside Lionel Messi, but he retains more than enough desire and ability to excel under Diego Simeone in Madrid.

His 198 goals in 283 appearances for Barça in the six years that followed his transfer from Liverpool more than justified the £74m fee they paid, and should he start alongside Diego Costa he will be expected to contribute to another particularly potent attack. Given his debut as a 70th-minute substitute against Granada, he scored twice and assisted a further goal to demonstrate that. “When it comes to building a squad, I look for guys who know how to perform and who accept when they play and when they don’t,” Simeone said. “That’s how great teams are formed.”

Tactical analysis
Suárez is that rare nature of attacker – one as comfortable playing without a strike partner as he is in a front two or three. He has consistently proven an impressive finisher who outscores his xG, and largely because of the variety of finish that he can provide. He is also effective whether receiving to feet, running in behind defenders, attacking aerial crosses, reaching low deliveries, or combining around the penalty area.

When attacking towards the left he is likelier to attempt shooting from distance, playing possession towards the far post or cutting it back towards the near one – usually between defenders’ legs. If it travels towards the right, he runs to the left to challenge his opponent and, instead of running across that opponent, takes a final step away from the ball to ghost in behind him and towards any deliveries into the area.

His anticipation of where possession is likely to travel via rebounds or second balls gives him predatory qualities from close range; if he is not the focal point of an attack he will instead drift into where there is more space in pursuit of the second ball. On the occasions he receives with his back to goal, he leans into opponents to provide a barrier between that opponent and the ball, at which point he will either lay it off to a teammate or attempt to create a chance for himself. That variety also extends to earlier stages in his teams’ efforts to build possession. He can as regularly be seen adopting an offside position (below) to prevent his opponent from seeing both him and the ball, and then moving at the last second towards it to be onside and combine, as he can receiving with an advantage on his opponent – after possession is played to an advancing, wide teammate – or making runs between defenders and against the direction of the ball.

Similarly proven to the threat he provides in behind is his creativity. Suárez seeks to withdraw to towards the ball when it is wide, to receive diagonal or horizontal passes into his feet and then play a teammate in behind opposing defences; if he receives with his back to goal, his awareness makes him capable of combining with teammates. Should he resist the urge to chip passes in favour of a smoother technique, and avoid letting his exceptional desire contribute to some of his play becoming untidy – even if that desire makes him so influential when his team is without the ball – he can be even more effective. His relentless energy and intensity is channelled towards its recovery, and his approach has evolved; if the nearest player to the ball, he will be typically intense in chasing it; if he is further away he has learned to position himself to instead cut off passing lanes.

Role at Barcelona
Suárez was a consistent feature of the four-diamond-two and 4-3-3 formations Quique Setién favoured at Barça throughout 2019/20. When they were in possession he prioritised threatening in behind and vertically stretching defensive structures to increase the spaces between the lines that Messi and others relished.

It was at Barça, where alongside Messi and Neymar he once contributed to an extraordinary front three, that he evolved into the complete striker capable of providing a significant threat to all of their opponents and of marrying together the wider contributions the very finest make. Until his departure, his understanding with Messi, particularly, led to numerous goals and assists for both.

That understanding involved them combining (above), often with a further teammate, to advance beyond opposing defences, and demonstrated a particularly high awareness of each other’s qualities. Suárez was consistently alert to his teammates’ positioning around the penalty area, even when under pressure, and that ability contributed to him creating goalscoring opportunities because of his judgement of the runs they should make and the passes that those runs should be met with.

He was equally influential at the front of Barça’s press, where he often made high-intensity sprints towards the ball-carrying central defender. He even occasionally accepted some of Messi’s workload so that the Argentinian’s energy could be preserved for when they had the ball.

Luis Suárez

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