In 2015/16, Luis Suárez finished with 81 goal involvements, with 66 in the league alone. In a season where Lionel Messi had struggled with an injury, Neymar and Luis Suárez had run riot. Suárez fit his typecast perfectly that season; with smart off-the ball movement, ridiculous link-up play and a penchant for splitting up defenders, especially in the box. Suárez very much became (at least for a brief period) the bona fide star in what was Lucho’s best ever Barça side.
Suárez averaged an xG p90 of 1.02 that season, alongside an xA of 0.38. that is genuinely mind-boggling. Alongside, he also managed 2.64 successful dribbles, 3.63 shots and a bonkers goal conversion rate of 30%. It was brilliant to watch Luisito and his cold efficiency. Yes, he’s never really been a volume shooter but he does miss his fair share of big chances. That season, he finished with 40 goals in the league against an xG of 35.83. No Messi numbers, yes, but efficient nonetheless. Interestingly enough, that season Suárez’s goal to xG ratio was better than both Messi’s and Ronaldo’s.
So many standout performances too.
Perhaps the most memorable was the 8-0 dismantling of Deportivo La Coruna, in which Suárez bagged four goals and three assists. The performance was indicative of a season in which the Uruguayan could do no wrong. If 2014-15 had been a season of redemption for Suárez, then 2015-16 was the season in which he staked a claim (again) as the best no.9 in the world. And that wasn’t the only hat-trick. Suárez also scored three or more against Getafe, Athletic Club, Celta, Sporting Gijón, Granada and Guangzhou Evergrande (Club World Cup).
Alongside, Luisito also scored a brace on five occasions, with a famous one against Rafa Benitez’s Madrid at the Bernabeu. In that game, Barça were at Madrid’s throat right from the off and broke the deadlock early, with Suarez getting on the end of a lovely 24-pass move with an emphatic outside of the boot strike. 1-0. They doubled their advantage in the 39th minute when Andres Iniesta threaded a ball through for Neymar, who slotted it in against an advancing Keylor Navas. Iniesta himself got on the scoresheet in the 53rd minute. The Spaniard blasted the ball in the top corner after receiving it via a Neymar backheel. Suarez capped the rout with a chipped finish, rubbing salt into the wound. A deep wound, indeed. Barça ended the game with 18 shots (7 on target), 59% possession and a six-point cushion at the top of La Liga. It was the Suarez and Neymar show like we’d never seen it. And it was electrifying.
What Suárez had, and has subsequently lost over the past few seasons, was an athleticism. An ability to turn at pace and evade defenders. It was his bread and butter at Liverpool, and was also evident in his early years at Barça. Ever since he’s gotten on the wrong side of 30, though, things have slowed down. Quite literally. Suárez struggles to break at pace and is useless on the counter, thereby. Moreover, Suárez’s dribbling ability has really declined (last season’s away tie against Lyon being a case in point). He is still effective in front of goal, yes, but has lost parts of what made him great. The incomplete superstar, if you will.
Does the current version of Suárez still have a place in the team, then? Yes. Despite his ageing, Suárez still remains an able deputy to Leo Messi, and that is vital. No other Barça signing (of late) has been able to replicate that relationship with the Argentine, both on and off the pitch. Until Messi finds a new partner in crime, Suárez stays.
Because talent does not age. Only the body does.