With Barcelona publicly announcing the successful signing of Luis Suarez, the constant rumor has become a reality. When Neymar is fit and Suarez’s ban is over, Barcelona will boast a frontline that contains 3 of the best strikers in the world: Messi is the best in the world, Suarez was the best in the EPL last season, and Neymar was arguably the best at the World Cup. Thus, on paper Barcelona’s new attack looks nearly unstoppable. However, just because something looks good and sounds good, doesn’t mean it is. As such, it is worth analyzing the problems Suarez’s arrival could have, as Eric Duffy does below.
The first issue with the signing of Suarez is the question of how will he fit into the current squad and if he will be willing to adapt to Barcelona’s style. As it has been for a while, Barcelona is Messi’s team and therefore, the other ten players are expected to play to his strengths. The ball is usually played through Messi and the job of his teammates is to create space for him and provide passing lanes. Thus, unlike the usual job of a striker— where they are accustomed to receiving the ball where they want it and then trying to create chances— at Barcelona the forwards receive the ball where Messi puts it and then either shoot and score or return the ball to Messi. As a result, in Barcelona’s current setup when a forward plays with Messi, his mission is to accommodate Barca’s #10 and the system that brings out the best in the top player in the world.
In short, being a striker at Barcelona is not like being a striker anywhere else. It is not surprising then that some of the top strikers in the world have left Nou Camp due in part to their frustration with the Messi focused offense. It is hard for a forward to forget everything they have learned and everything that has made them successful in order to play “the Barcelona way.”
Neymar’s contrasting form is the perfect example. All last season, Neymar struggled to adapt to Barcelona’s style of play and many critics deemed his transfer a failure. However, in the recent World Cup Neymar showed his quality and proved that he is in fact a world class player. The difference between the two Neymars can, in part, be blamed on the two systems he played in. With Barcelona, he had to play to Messi, while with Brazil he was able to be himself and play his way. A team’s tactics heavily influence a player’s potential and at Barcelona, the potential for an outright striker is not high because as long as Messi is on the field, the typical forward is not.
Every great striker in the world is successful because they believe they can score at will. This means taking all free kicks, trying to run through 3 or 4 defenders, and demanding the ball at all times. All of which will not be available for Suarez next year. Instead, Suarez will be asked to do the dirty work for Messi by playing out wide to stretch the opponent’s defense, pressing and winning the ball back, and making runs to create space knowing he won’t receive the ball.
This is the problem Suarez will have to overcome. Neymar struggled to adapt to being stuck on the outside and being expected to move without the ball rather than with it. He was forced to play a style of play that didn’t bring out the best of him individually and as a consequence, his performance suffered. The same challenges will face Suarez. He is going to be going from being the number one option and the focal point of an offense to the second or third option and a player expected to defer to another striker.