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Friday 09 May 2014

Talking Tactics: 'More efficient' Suarez deserving of plaudits

Adrian Clarke looks at why Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has shone this season

Luis Suarez has scored 31 Barclays Premier League goals so far this season

With 31 goals and a clutch of man-of-the-match awards to his name, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez was the obvious choice to land this season's PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards.

Ahead of his final Barclays Premier League match of a wonderful season on Sunday, Adrian Clarke takes a closer look at how the superstar Uruguayan has performed in 2013/14…

The complete striker

There is an incredible zeal about Suarez that marks him out as someone special, but this season he has channeled that enthusiasm better than ever.

Collecting four fewer yellow cards than he did last term, the Reds star has shown greater self-control. He has also been more efficient with the use of his energy. Staying in advanced positions more often during games, his focus has almost exclusively centred on creating and scoring goals, a ploy that’s paid off handsomely.

I have analysed all 31 of the South American's strikes, and the variety is just astounding.

From three yards to 40 yards, with his left and right feet, from headers and set-pieces, virtually no two goals have been that similar. There is no situation on a football pitch where a defender can feel safe, if Suarez is on the move and hunting for a goal.

At the highest level, where time and space are at a premium, top-class strikers have to see the picture quickly. The very elite possess a knack of producing clinical one-touch finishes at speed, and with 22 first-time hits on his record in 2013/14, that is an area in which Suarez has excelled better than anyone else this term.

Rarely seen standing still waiting for the ball, the Liverpool forward uses his intuition and mobility to get into lots of goalscoring positions, and then his technical ability takes care of the finish.

Suarez is not a striker who relies solely on service either. While his Liverpool team-mates have laid 19 goals on for him this season, he has manufactured 12 of his own doing, either by seizing on defensive mistakes, latching on to stray balls, or striking shots with unerring accuracy from distance. He is a player that has it all.

Playing in a better side

Confidence is the most important factor for any player who wants to succeed in Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool team. For the manager's fluid, attack-minded tactics to work, the whole side needs to be comfortable on the ball and in tune with one another’s games.

That is why the Northern Irishman was sensible to retain and develop most of the squad who ended last season's Barclays Premier League campaign in seventh place. This continuity helped the team as a whole make such dramatic improvements.

It has affected Suarez's progress too.

Despite scoring eight more times, Suarez has not had many more shots on goal, received the ball more often, or changed his style. The difference has been the quality of opportunities presented to him in 2013/14.

As can be seen in the table below his numbers have improved, but how much of this has been down to a rise in creativity around him?

Luis Suarez in the BPL 2013/14 2012/13
Appearances 32 33
Goals 31 23
Minutes per goal 93 128
Shots on target 79 72
Shooting Accuracy 53% 50%
Chance conversion 21% 16%
Goal assists 12 5
Chances created (inc assists) 88 91
Dribble completion % 35% 33%

I would say a lot. Passing the ball quicker, stretching opponents with their slick one and two-touch moves, being part of a sprightly front three who interchange smoothly, are all ingredients that have made the Uruguayan much more unpredictable, and harder to track.

The Reds have scored 28 extra goals this season, a rise of 39%.

In previous campaigns all eyes were on Suarez. Now, with goals and chances flowing from various members of the side, rivals can no longer afford to focus their attention solely on him. This has helped Suarez find the room to score more goals, under less pressure, inside the box.

Big-game blips

The only blemish on an otherwise magnificent campaign has been Suarez’s failure to find the net against UEFA Champions League qualifiers Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. In 2012/13 he scored four goals in six matches against the same three sides. So, why did he suffer a blank this season?

Suarez v the Big 3 this season

Opposition Goals Attempts on target Attempts off target Goal assists Key passes
Arsenal (A) 0 0 2 0 2
Man City (A) 0 2 3 0 4
Chelsea (A) 0 1 0 0 2
Arsenal (H) 0 1 3 1 4
Man City (H) 0 0 2 1 1
Chelsea (H) 0 2 1 0 5
Averages 0.97 2.47 2.22 0.38 2.34

In defeatsby Arsenal (away) and Chelsea (home and away) Liverpool did not play well, and that is an important factor. Knocked out of their stride, Rodgers' side allowed themselves to be hurried inside the final third in all three contests.

The best way to keep Suarez quiet is to squeeze the space between defence and midfield, an area Suarez revels in, while also ensuring there is no space for him to latch on to passes slipped in behind. Both London clubs achieved this effectively in those matches.

Against Chelsea (both times) and away at Manchester City, Suarez also led the line on his own. Although that is something he enjoys, against the stronger opponents who are more comfortable marking him, the diversion of having Daniel Sturridge around him, was something that was missed.

One can also put this season's failure to score against the other top-four sides down to bad luck. In Liverpool's 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal Suarez was extremely unfortunate not to score. It should also be noted that he operated in a selfless and unfamiliar right-wing role that day, dragging his markers away from a central area for Sturridge and Raheem Sterling to exploit brilliantly.

Suarez did not play as a striker against Arsenal at Anfield:

So, even though it will be a source of frustration for the Uruguayan, there were mitigating circumstances, which perhaps explain his lack of goals in the "big matches". I do not see any reason why it is a pattern that will continue next season.

Final thought

Luis Suarez's record in 2013/14 has been phenomenal. He has produced one four-goal haul, two hat-tricks, six braces, and scored in 18 of his 32 Barclays Premier League appearances.

It is not just been about goals, either. Claiming 12 crucial assists Liverpool's star striker has proven himself to be a vital team player, too. Making run after run after run, the Uruguayan's enthusiastic style has been infectious and brought the best out of those around him at Anfield.

Still only 27, the bad news for the other teams in the Barclays Premier League is that he could be even better next season.

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Key Points

  • Adrian Clarke takes a look at the how Luis Suarez has lit up the Barclays Premier League in 2013/14
  • The Liverpool striker has scored a wide variety of goals this season
  • He will be able to add to his tally of 31 goals in the final match of the campaign this weekend