In 2015/16, Luis Suarez notched 40 league goals. It was the first time in almost a decade someone not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo reached that threshold.
The Uruguayan’s tally dropped to 29 the following campaign. Four disappeared the next. He’s yet to get off the mark thus far in 2018/19. Is the player who performed so ably for his country in the World Cup in gradual decline?
Barcelona envisioned Suarez as Messi’s partner before making the move in 2014. A controversial figure at times, he boasts unrivalled passion. Driven by ruthless, steely determination, Suarez is the eternal street baller who began with nothing. That’s the iron fist. Selfless, liberal and devoted, he’s every manager’s delight.
As expected, the South American pair struck up a relationship that goes beyond the pitch. They became neighbours in Castelldefels. Their kids attend the same school; their wives share business interests. Messi has several close friends. None won him over as quickly as Suarez.
The bromance shouldn’t surprise. Suarez adapted to Messi’s game like no one else, without complaint. Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn’t do it. Even Samuel Eto’o struggled as the Maestro’s second violin. Neymar tried but lost patience.
To his own detriment, Suarez aided Barcelona and Messi. Barcelona claimed the treble in style. Luis Enrique’s men were ruthless up front; fearless at the back. Messi struck 46 times in the league. He potted another 14 in the Copa del Rey and Champions League. Suarez, meanwhile, struck just 16 times.
The Argentine superstar returned the favour the next campaign. With his help, Suarez plundered 57 in 53 matches across all competitions. Messi was uncharacteristically content to step back. He knew the audience wouldn’t tire watching Suarez’s spectacles.
Suarez isn’t the same since his turn in the lead. The Uruguay international’s returns are on a downward curve.
Goals are depreciating, as is his overall input. In the last two seasons, Suarez struggled to dovetail with his strike partner. Some believe were it not for Messi, he’d have been pushed out this summer.
The former Ajax man’s terrible Champions League record added to the slump. Suarez scored once in 10 European games last term, three times in nine outings the previous campaign.
Worse could be ahead. Barcelona’s won three competitive matches this season, against Sevilla, Alaves and Valladolid. In each, they turned elsewhere for goals.
Suarez looks sluggish, missing a cutting edge. those who hoped he’d want to avenge his World Cup exit following Edinson Cavani’s injury are disappointed. His once sumptuous touch, exquisite timing and vintage sharpness are missing. He’s become frustrated, confused, hard to watch.
There’s ample time to strike back. His struggles recall last season’s tardy start. The 31-year-old didn’t hit the target in his first five matches. He managed just three in 14 games in all competitions heading into the winter.
Age is a factor. Suarez turns 32 in January. If his form doesn’t improve before season’s end, Messi may need to find another friend.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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