Connect in the back of the net

Barcelona took a 0-2 first leg win away from the Emirates on Tuesday evening and although Arsene Wenger believes the tie is 95% finished, Luis Suarez warned against complacency. “We are very happy as we got really nice score but we know that it is still not done,” he said, “there are another 90 minutes to be played.”

Had the Uruguayan striker taken the two simple chances that were presented to him however, then there would be no question about that second 90 minutes.

Dani Alves sent in a wonderful volleyed cross which Suarez headed wide when it was easier to score on the stroke of half-time then, in the 78th minute with Barcelona a goal up, Suarez hammered against the post after being played in by Lionel Messi.

It is a criticism that extends back to when he was first breaking into the senior Nacional side in his native Uruguay when, so consumed with the will to win, the easiest opportunities would be sent begging and the fans would boo him. Suarez does have a habit of wasting easy chances and at Barcelona, that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

In the 1-3 win at Sporting Gijon last week the Uruguayan was punching the floor in frustration after being denied by goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar first in a one-on-one and then from a penalty, before he contrived to pass up two sitters in the 1-2 victory at Las Palmas at the weekend. However such is his boundless determination to triumph in the personal battle he sees as unfolding between him and the goalkeeper, Suarez netted in both games to render the misses irrelevant.

The win in the Canary Islands became the 16th La Liga match in which he has scored in this season as he leads the league scoring charts with 25, 3 clear of Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, his closest challenger. Suarez has 41 in total for the season so far, an extraordinary tally considering we haven’t yet entered into the blooms of March.

He has more goals than any other player in Europe’s top leagues since the start of 2016, following on from last year when he hit 48 goals across the 12 months of 2015 after returning from the four month ban that stalled his early progress in Catalonia.

Suarez’s goals hoovered up five trophies in his first 15 months as a Barcelona player and now, with his goals firing them to an 8 point lead at the top of La Liga with a spot in the final of the Copa Del Rey now assured, the Uruguayan has five in that competition, there will be plenty more silverware to follow.

“We are very ambitious,” Suarez added after the victory over Arsenal. “We want to carry on winning trophies and adding titles to this club because we are in the best team of the world.”

People will speak of a lack of hunger that will sometimes creep in after success but with Suarez on board Luis Enrique doesn’t have to worry about any kind of trophy-related inertia, the 29 year old is the one constantly driven, always raging against the machine with his eyes transfixed on the rewards that lie in wait.

That irrepressible desire may have seen him cross the line in the recent past but Barcelona now seem to be reaping the rewards of a more mature Suarez who now does the viscous biting solely with his feet rather than his teeth.

“We had doubts about whether he would adapt to a different team and a different way of play”, said Enrique after Suarez had scored in Berlin last May to cap a 1-3 win over Juventus which delivered the Catalans their fifth European Cup. “As it has turned out he has been one of the best players we have ever signed and it was a very good decision to put our trust in him. We paid a lot of money but he has shown he has tremendous hunger.”

When it is considered the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup and Ronald Koeman have all been lured to the Nou Camp, to be billed as one of the best players the Blaugrana have ever signed is insurmountable praise but of which Suarez is proving he is deserving.

He may not play like he believes he is as naturally talented as them, or even as those he currently shares the Barcelona attack-line with, straining every inch of sinew and industry to bridge the quality gap that he believes to be apparent, but his intense tenacity has given Enrique’s already-brilliant Barca another dimension.

Discarding those missed chances at the Emirates, how Wenger would have wished the Uruguayan was on his side for the night his team lacked ruthlessness and guile in the final third. He would have been the one who truly struck fear into Barca’s back-line in return and it is worth wondering how events would have unfolded had the Gunners succeeded with that bid of £40 million and £1 when the Uruguayan was in limbo at Liverpool in 2013.

He stayed in Merseyside of course and in true Suarez fashion he so nearly spearheaded a title-winning charge, eventually ending in tears on the pitch at Crystal Palace. Vilified at the start of that season by the English press, he finished it as their player of the year, the PFA player of the year, the Premier League’s player of the season and as the European Golden Shoe winner, which he jointly-shared with Cristiano Ronaldo. That earned him a “dream” move to Barcelona for the £75 million fee he is now repaying with a pleasing interest rate.

Flaws do still exist in his game, his La Liga goals coming at a rate of just over one conversion out of three clear-cut opportunities, but Suarez is permitted that occasional profligacy as perfection sits alongside him with Messi and Neymar.

His wastefulness means that the MSN forward line is likely to still be required back at the Nou Camp in the middle of March but safe passage into the quarter finals is virtually a formality.

They can now start laying their eyes on becoming the first club to ever defend the European Champions League as Tuesday night made it 33 games unbeaten for the Catalans. Messi’s double made it 77 goals shared between the Latin American trio in that period and Suarez has 35 of that number.

With the 29 year old on top of his game with a world class supporting cast in assistance, Enrique and Barcelona are equipped to make history.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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