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Friday 03 January 2014

Talking Tactics: The secrets behind Suarez's goalscoring success

Adrian Clarke looks at why the Liverpool striker is having such a good campaign

  • Pic 1: Suarez has become more of a goal threat for Liverpool this season

  • Pic 2: Suarez produced an exceptional performance against Norwich City

  • Pic 3: Against higher-placed opposition, Suarez has found it difficult to make such an impact

Stand-out performers have not been hard to find in what is turning out to be a thrilling Barclays Premier League season, but few individuals have caught the eye in quite the same manner as Liverpool's talisman Luis Suarez. Leading the race for the Golden Boot on 20 goals so far, the Uruguayan has been in sensational form.

Here is why the Reds No 7 is such a special attacking talent.

Persistent progress

Believe it or not, Luis Suarez arrived in English football with a reputation for profligacy in front of goal - and during his first 18 months at Anfield he proceeded to spurn a glut of gilt-edged opportunities. Frustration grew to such an extent that it was widely accepted he was not a natural finisher.

With 43 goals in his last 48 Barclays Premier League matches that theory has long since been disproved but as Table 1 below clearly shows, the former Ajax star has undergone a remarkable transformation. Since his arrival in January 2011, the South American has more than trebled his success rate when a chance presents itself.

Also see Image 1

Luis Suarez Chances created per match Shots per match Conversion rate Goals/ match
2013/14 3 4.93 27% 20 in 15
2012/13 2.72 4.33 16.08% 23 in 33
2011/12 2.06 3.48 10.19% 11 in 31
2010/11 1.92 3.62 8.51% 4 in 13

Why such marked improvements?

At 26, Suarez is maturing as a player. His movement has more intelligence, his strength and fitness levels have increased, while in front of goal there is more calm-headedness than in his younger, more impetuous days. When you also consider he has now fully adapted to the rigours of English football and the expectations of being a Liverpool player, this campaign is proving to be a perfect storm.

Liverpool's changing style under Brendan Rodgers is also significant to his development.

Under the Kenny Dalglish regime the set-up did not suit him as much as it does today. Looking at the stats from 2010/11, Liverpool's passing success rate was a low 77.1%, while they possessed 52.1% of the ball on average. So far this term, Liverpool have achieved 84.7% and 55.4% in those two respective areas.

The next season, no team in the Barclays Premier League crossed the ball more than Liverpool, who averaged 29 a match. Now this figure is 19. After an above-average 67 long balls per match in 2011/12, this season's average is down to 54.

Dalglish's tactics did not bring the best out of their intuitive front man, and with fewer creative talents around him to move the ball accurately and at speed, clear chances were harder to come by.

Now, with a focus on shorter passing (up 20% since he signed), neat through-balls (a 50% rise) and less hopeful deliveries from the flanks, Suarez is at the hub of everything and able to dominate the opposition. The philosophy deployed by Rodgers suits his star striker's game down to the ground.

An all-rounder

What sets the Uruguyan apart from most centre-forwards is his ability to score any type of goal. As Table 2 highlights below, Suarez can produce a wide range of finishes, at any stage of any match.

58 Suarez Goals How? Where Origin Time
  Right 37 Inside box 45 Open play 43 (76-90) 13
  Left 12 Outside box 13 Corner 5 (16-30) 12
  Header 9   Direct free-kick 5 (46-60) 11
      Free-kick cross 4 (31-45) 8
      Throw 1 (61-75) 7
        (0-15) 7

Always on the move, drifting from side to side or into holes deep or beyond his markers, Suarez does not allow his game to be restricted by others. That is why he is equally comfortable playing the lone role, or forming an attacking duo.

In fact, despite sharing a fruitful partnership with Daniel Sturridge in 2013, with more freedom to roam along the front line and no one else taking up the positions he enjoys occupying, the Reds No 7 has performed better as a solo striker.

In 2013 Without Sturridge With Sturridge
Matches 11 18
Chances created per match 3 2.83
Shots per match 4.8 4.28
Goals 16 14
Goals per match 1.45 0.78

A flat-track bully?

More than half of Suarez's 23 Barclays Premier League goals last season came against sides in the top 13. This term it has been a different story.

It is worth noting that the Uruguyan has scored 16 of his 20 goals against clubs who have been struggling in the bottom seven - 14 of those (and 15 in total) celebrated in front of the Anfield supporters. Delivering match-winning displays in matches when Liverpool are strong favourites, has come easily to him. His performance against Norwich City, see Image 2, was simply sensational.

However, collecting the ball between the lines, isolating defenders in one-on-one situations, and running with the ball in the final third has proved trickier against the big guns. Blanks against Newcastle United, Arsenal, Hull City, Manchester City and Chelsea have left him and his team frustrated.

In Liverpool's recent defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (see Image 3), Suarez was a little isolated. Put under great pressure in possession, crowded out by markers in front and behind, his team-mates found it difficult to hit the ball to Suarez's feet.

This is a problem that should be arrested once Daniel Sturridge returns to the starting line-up. Giving opponents a second striker to worry about, their own midfielders more options to hit, and Suarez somebody to combine with in close proximity will aid Liverpool in harder contests.

Simply the best?

Some would argue there is no debate that Suarez is the finest striker in the Barclays Premier League, but Manchester City's Sergio Aguero has also been exceptional this term. Both gifted, mobile and lethal in front of goal, they appear similar types of players at first glance, but it is Suarez's ability to make things happen of his own accord – in varying situations – that sets him apart.

From dead balls, out wide, in the hole, or on the shoulder of the last man, Liverpool boast a front man who is threatening wherever he is on the pitch. Manchester City's star man, on the other hand, is a forward who likes to do his best work inside the 18-yard box.

In terms of his impact, this tale of the tape proves that Suarez has the edge.…

2013/14 Suarez Aguero
Matches 15 15
Goals 20 13
Mins per goal 67.4 86.6
Shots 74 51
Crosses 30 17
Chances created (including assists) 50 29

Final thought

Luis Suarez is the most in-form striker on the planet, and comfortably the most dangerous marksman in English football. With so much variation to his game, he is effectively two players rolled into one.

The impending return of Sturridge may affect their top scorer's individual contribution in the coming months, but I sense it will help the team, especially against well-organised defences that focus on stifling Suarez.

Nevertheless, Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo's joint record of 31 Barclays Premier League goals in a season is still likely to be smashed.

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Key Points

  • Adrian Clarke analyses why Luis Suarez is such a prolific striker
  • Uruguayan is improving year on year after adapting to Barclays Premier League
  • Clark explains why Suarez has made such an improvement