Luis Suarez has been training normally with the Barcelona squad ahead of their upcoming Copa del Rey final clash against Athletic Bilbao. Luis Enrique can certainly consider himself lucky to have such a dominant player back in his squad as, judging by his performances this season, the No.9 is little short of indispensable.
After a summer to forget due to his inexcusable attack on Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup finals, Suarez decided it was time to move away from his beloved Liverpool in search of a fresh start elsewhere. Despite being furiously made fun of by pretty much every media outlet in the British Isles, the vast majority of fans at Anfield were in fact devastated by their star striker’s departure.
Fortunately, the Barcelona directors were efficient enough convince the current Golden Boot holder to sign for the Camp Nou giants for the next five seasons. Although the €81 million transfer did raise a few eyebrows in the Catalan capital initially, the Uruguayan’s performances since his arrival have been stellar, proving doubters wrong.
Undoubtedly, the signing of Suarez instantly boosted the team’s firepower upfront. Especially considering that Luis Enrique could already count on quadruple Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi and emerging Brazilian youngster Neymar, it was clear that Barcelona supporters were in for a treat -- if the manager found a way to make his three star forwards work cooperatively, that is.
It was not an easy task. Although the Asturian's initial idea was to use Suarez as a winger in order to complement Messi’s game as a false striker, all involved quickly realised that such decision was not likely to maximise the players’ strength. From that point on, Luis Enrique had no choice but to go back to the drawing board and find a better alternative.
Messi was asked to return to the right wing, the position where he excelled in as a youngster trying to make his name in the first team after graduating from the La Masia academy. Nobody can deny that, despite the Argentinean’s initial reservations, the tactical change enabled him more time on the ball, far more spaces to run into and the possibility to read the game more freely from deeper, often even at the heart of midfield.
Without a doubt, Messi’s abysmal improvement this season could not have been possible without the relentless work that Suarez has been carrying out as a reference striker. The way in which he attracts the attention of both rival centre-backs, always picks the best diagonal run in order to generate spaces or forces opponents into space by pressing when not in possession has been invaluable so far.
The result? Barcelona have been scoring goals for fun and have been little short of unstoppable all year. The MSN front three have been instrumental to the team’s success and, if the Blaugranas have already secured La Liga and are only two matches away from a historical treble, it is definitely thanks to the boost of quality their cooperative ethos has brought to the Camp Nou.
Messi has scored 56 goals and given 27 assists. Suarez has netted 24 times and added 16 assists. Neymar has also contributed enormously, as proved by the 37 goals scored and the seven assists provided for his teammates. Such impressive stats certainly place the current attacking partnership as the best attacking trident that the Camp Nou faithful have ever been privileged enough to witness.
Luis Enrique has been fortunate enough to have all of his three star forwards available from virtually every match throughout the season, a fact that has certainly help their understanding grow at an unusually quick rate during that time.
Inevitably, the irruption and consolidation of the MSN front three has also meant a drop in Pedro’s playing time. Nobody can fault the Spanish international’s effort and commitment but, given his teammates skills, it was only natural that he would become the team’s fourth choice upfront.
To his credit, Pedro has performed fairly well whenever trusted, even scoring some memorable goals in the process. However, the No.7 has not demonstrated enough confidence when dribbling, often over-relying on passing the ball to an unmarked teammate instead. In short, Barcelona are just not as fluent, dynamic and eager to take risks upfront whenever either one of their regular starters are missing.
Luis Suarez is expected to fully recover in time to make Luis Enrique’s starting XI for both the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals. Cules are truly delighted to have such a gifted, committed difference-maker back in their team as, with their No.9 as a reference striker, the Catalan giants are significantly stronger.
The quote: "Very few players could score that goal, with his first touch and then a finish few can do. That is why we signed Suarez, and we're very happy for him to be the decisive player. As a forward he needs goals, but we've always been happy with his attitude and displays. He is not just a typical centre-forward, he can join in the play with his teammates, read the moves and the play. He also has physical presence and character which are very useful for us. He has brought a lot to the team since his first day here.” -- Luis Enrique, speaking after the Uruguayan clinched the decisive winner in El Clasico in late March.