With his bags of skills and sheer quality on the pitch, it is hardly of any surprise that Luis Suarez is attracting so much attention from the top dogs of the European Football fraternity. Liverpool managed to repel off buyers only as recently as last summer, but their failure in qualifying for the Champions League this season too poses the stern question that will they manage to pull that off again this time? On Suarez’s part, will he give in to the lucrative offers of the Champions League clubs or stay back trying to help Liverpool in the pursuit of that elusive top 4 finish? Not to mention his perceived mistreatment in England by the authorities and media.
Anfield loyalists would disregard any chance of him leaving this summer, especially after the way Liverpool Football Club stuck by his side during the racism row involving Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists wouldn’t fail to mention that Luis Suarez’s agent also happens to be Pep’s brother and he may act as the catalyst in his client’s departure. Too much thought has been given into these questions. Too much thinking has been done on the player’s part. What is going on his mind, we may never know. But what we can do is have a peek at the dynamics of this situation, as in, how much would his departure affect Liverpool tactically and statistically; is it really beneficial for Liverpool to hold on to him or should they let him go?
Liverpool would be well aware that keeping him comes with strings attached, the former Ajax man always managed to get engulfed in controversies. The latest being the bite-incident which has put the club in a difficult position. The media and opposition fans are pressurising Liverpool to sell him as the Uruguayan is facing a 10-game ban. He has already, supposedly, tarnished the clubs reputation.
However, all we care about, for now, is how it would affect Liverpool on the field if he goes or stays; we won’t be looking into the matter from a PR point of view.
So, let’s first take look at how influential has Luis Suarez been for Liverpool this Season and then we’ll discuss what will change if he quits.
The Role of Luis Suarez
Liverpool is having a transition season while Luis Suarez is having an outstanding one. The Uruguay international has been sharp in overall play, scoring goals, bringing others into play and winning fouls – things which he does the best. It wouldn’t be entirely wrong to say that it’s only his efforts which are keeping Liverpool afloat in the top half of the table. When he has a bad day, the entire team has a bad day.
Suarez has netted 23 of Liverpool’s 55 goals in his 33 appearances this season and created 5. Also, he has won 4 penalties which is the highest number won by an individual player this season in any of Europe’s top 5 leagues. In addition to this, he has a shot creation rate of 5.7 per match completing 2.9 dribbles per match which makes him the most important element of Liverpool’s front-line.
Luis Suarez fits in perfectly with Brendan Rodger’s pass and move ideology of play. The season saw a quite noticeable change in Liverpool’s style of play which revolved around possession football, pressing the opponent in their own half and creating lots of shots. However, the team relied on short passes in the first half of the season, they reverted to a more direct approach with the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in January. Suarez, touted as the “Nutmeg king”, is Liverpool’s linchpin. His uncanny ability of pulling off nearly impossible dribbles, holding on to the ball under immense pressure and creating something out of nothing in very tight situations has made him the fulcrum on which Liverpool’s entire attack rests. He can play as the lone striker, behind Sturridge in a deeper role or on the left flank cutting inside and causing all sorts of troubles. This versatility makes him even more difficult to replace.
So, if Suarez decides to leave, Liverpool’s attack would be off-balance to say the least and Brendan Rodgers would be faced with a humongous task of replacing his star man and the 23 goals which he had accounted for thus far.
FSG and Brendan Rodgers have done some shrewd business in the transfer market as in the cases of Coutinho and Sturridge. The most remarkable feature of their transfer tactics is their evaluation of players and their resolution of sticking by that evaluation.
Life Without Suarez
If Liverpool gets a decent amount (about €50 million) or Suarez himself wants out, then there is no point stopping him. Let us assume that he chooses to leave and look at the challenges as well as possibilities that would open up for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool FC. The quality of Luis Suarez can never be replaced. Brendan Rodgers will be quick to realize that and he will look to replace his contribution for the club, not his quality on the pitch. Liverpool’s failure in qualifying for the Champions League simply means they won’t be able to attract big names or wonder-kids. That would seriously limit the options. So, how bad would be the hit? How will they overcome?
As soon as Suarez leaves, the Liverpool management would be posed with 2 questions, first – how to account for the lack of creativity, and second, how to make up for the goals he scored. His departure would render Liverpool’s attack blunt leaving a big hole between the strikers and the midfielders.
Coutinho can play in the hole behind the striker, but he is young and too predictable. He has a much less physical presence on the pitch and is unable to hold the ball high up the pitch.
Daniel Sturridge is quick and has excelled in the direct play which Liverpool has adopted since his arrival. He can be lethal during counter attacks and can get the goals when needed. But in open play, he’s no match for Luis Suarez.
Steven Gerrard is no more the Box-to-Box midfielder he used to be and likes to pull the strings sitting deeper on the pitch. Also, pushing him further up the pitch would create a hole in the midfield and unless Jordan Henderson or Joe Allen chooses to have an excellent season alongside Lucas, Brendan Rodgers would certainly not want to do that.
Although, Liverpool boasts of an exciting range of young talent coming up from their academy, they may be a couple of years shy from regular first team action. The likes of Jonjo Shelvey and Suso have already made their debut, but they need to work up their skills and gain experience. The likes of Adam Morgan and Jordan Ibe need a couple of good loan spells before they can be promoted to the first team.
In the present squad, there is no player who can step up and fill in his boots, at least, based on this season’s performance. Liverpool’s attack would be totally blunt lacking creativity and regular supply of goals.
Luis Suarez is a complete package – he can provide you with the flair, make your team tick by his excellent creativity and also get you the goals. With their problems regarding the much talked about inability to attract top-notch players, it is evident that Liverpool won’t be able to find a replacement for him. At best, what they can do is recreate him on the pitch and recreating him means only one thing – account for his contributions so that “The Hit” doesn’t knock them off. Tactically, it is possible. Isn’t this what makes great managers?
Presently, Liverpool usually play a 4-3-3. Gerrard, Henderson and Lucas are the middle three – the core of the team, which is going to remain pretty much the same in the coming season. Coutinho plays on the left and Sturridge/Downing on the right flank. Luis Suarez is the lone striker. The point, which must be noted here is that Luis Suarez accounts for two things: he can drop deep picking up the ball, working the play and allowing Henderson and Gerrard to get ahead of him in scoring positions. And he can hover in and around the opponent’s penalty box getting the goals. So, one can call it – a 2 in 1 package.
If Liverpool goes for a conventional striker, he’ll get you the goals but fail to link up the play. And if they opt for a creative midfielder, he’ll provide you with the link up play, maybe create chances and even net a few, but the regular supply of goals which Suarez provided would be missing. And if Sturridge picks up an injury, there would be a goal drought.
The most logical step would be to buy both – a conventional striker and a creative/attacking midfielder. A 4-5-1 (or 4-2-3-1) would be a more viable option.
The flanks would remain unchanged, except Daniel Sturridge would be pushed up as the striker. Behind him would be a second striker or a central-attacking-midfielder. Gerrard and Lucas would be the middle two behind the attacking duo, Lucas in the holding role and Gerrard pulling the strings from the deep (as highlighted by the circle in the picture) or barging into the box to net the lay-offs – the things he’s best at. Coutinho and Sturridge along with the newcomers would form a formidable front line for the mighty reds in the final third (as depicted by the rectangle in the picture). This can adapt to both the styles which Brendan Rodgers prefer, the pass and move ideology or the direct approach. It would offer the fluidity of movement. The striker can drift wide, allowing the attacking midfielder to get into the scoring positions or the wingers to cut in and have a go themselves. This may be very effective as both Coutinho and Downing are not shy of shooting. So, overall the team would be able to play nice attacking football, if not, better than they do now.
For this, FSG need not spill large chunks of cash. With a well laid transfer policy already in effect, all they need to do is choose the players wisely bearing in mind what they want on the pitch. Brendan Rodgers is a shrewd tactician and he may come up with more effective ways to handle this situation, if at all it arises. Thus, tactically, even if Suarez leaves, it wouldn’t be much of a difficulty to assemble a team that can mount a genuine challenge for the 4th spot and beyond. The team may not look good on the paper, but if the coaching staff gets their training right, the team may do very well as a unit. However, consistency would be the key and even having Luis Suarez can’t guarantee you that.
Getting back to where we are, Suarez hasn’t left yet. He may not leave. But, if he does, one thing is for sure that Liverpool will be forced into another transition season, another delay.
So the primary task of Liverpool’s management will be to try to keep Luis Suarez and then bring on further reinforcements to mount a genuine challenge for the 4th spot. His presence would, to an extent, guarantee a better campaign. However if Liverpool fail to qualify for the Champions League next season too, they will be forced to sell him at a cheaper price in 2014; or worse, he’d look to bail out in January sending Liverpool’s season into a potential nosedive.
The truth is, even if he has his inner demons, he is a genius on the pitch who can lift Liverpool to glory.
Amidst all the uncertainty surrounding this saga, the only thing certain is – it’s going to be all but a quiet summer at Anfield and this may shape Liverpool’s future for years to come. Till then, the Kopites will do what they do the best, be optimistic.