Luis Suarez is set to make a sensational return to soccer since the big scandal of this summer’s World Cup landed him a four month ban from all play. Having introduced himself to his new club, Barcelona, in friendly matches, this will be Suarez’s first real competitive match with his new teammates. In what promises to be one of the most exciting front lines to have kicked a ball, Suarez is expected to line up with fellow giants Lionel Messi and Neymar to play against Real Madrid in the upcoming El Clasico. But will Suarez succeed where so many players have failed previously? Will he succumb to the pressure of playing next to one of the world’s best players, Messi?
There have been many players that have come to Barcelona and failed to reach the heights that had earned them the transfer to Camp Nou. Chief among these has been Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez, and David Villa. All of these players are without a doubt amazing players. Zlatan is still scoring amazing goals for PSG, Villa was able help Atletico Madrid win La Liga last season by scoring 13 goals in 36 appearances, and Sanchez was incredible in this summer’s World Cup. So why were these players often accused of playing within themselves or simply failed to play as well as they were able to while at Barcelona. The key component here isn’t pressure but the way the team was set up. Simply put, Lionel Messi is the main man. Zlatan came into the club and had to play Barca’s way, not the style he was best utilized in. The same goes for Villa, who would often play out wide. As for Sanchez, one doesn’t have to look hard find stories of how Messi didn’t rate the world-class player and would make it clear what he thought of the Sanchez. This isn’t a bash at Messi, either. A great player needs to have a certain level of ego to withstand that level of pressure, and he’s certainly earned the right to be a little cocky. It takes a certain kind of player to make it in the front line at Barcelona and the question is is Suarez that kind of player?
Now, you may ask yourself why I haven’t mentioned Neymar too much yet. He’s a great player and has been meshing into this Barca side fairly well. He had a slightly lucky break, if you want to call it that, in that when he first transferred to the club, Messi had one of his most injury-prone seasons. This gave Neymar a chance to really grow into the club without the shadow of Messi consistently on the field. Suarez will not have this luxury. What he will have, however, is a Barcelona squad currently 3 points above 2nd place and 4 above it’s old rivals, Real Madrid. This will certainly take a lot of pressure off of Suarez to come in and perform instantly.
So will Suarez work in this Barcelona team? Well, it depends on how they line up. They could line up with a 3 man front, like so:
Neymar – Suarez – Messi
with Messi and Neymar playing technically on the wings, but all three players shifting. This could get the best out of Suarez, who would thrive in the central role. This is unlikely, however, as Messi would be wasted on the wing. A similar approach to this, however, is more likely:
Neymar – Suarez
In this case, Messi would drop deep, essentially being given a free role to create between a midfield three and Neymar and Suarez operating centrally, while still floating from wing to wing. The upside to this formation would be that it puts all of the players in their best positions, while still maintaining a level of balance. At any given time, any of those three could be in any of the three positions, with Neymar dropping deeper and Messi moving forward, or Suarez doing so. The players behind these magnificent three would become even more important in this case, to keep the team from becoming too top heavy. A midfield three of Busquets, Iniesta, and Rakitic would be essential. All three players are capable of defending, creating, and attacking, to a degree. Obviously, Iniesta is better going forward than Busquets and Busquets is better at defending, but they balance each other out nicely.
The final obstacle to Suarez’s success at Barca will be whether he can cope with not being the main man in the squad. He is never going to displace Messi, a player who just this weekend refused to be subbed off despite beating Eibar 3-0 and being directly told by his manager to come off the field. This is a player that literally turned his back on his manager and walked away. Yet, in the post-match interview, manager Luis Enrique said of the incident “I trust what Messi tells me”. As long as Messi is at Barcelona, he is the main man. The head honcho. The central figure. At this point, I can’t see him being transferred out of the club so the only option is Messi retiring. Seeing as both players are 27, with Suarez being a couple of months older than Messi, Messi retiring before Suarez is highly unlikely, and by that point a new star at the club will likely have risen. So, Suarez better get used to playing the second man. He may score more goals, provide more assists, but will his ego be able to take playing under Messi’s shadow. This is by far the greatest challenge of this move, and possibly in Suarez’s career. Having seen this madman play, and having him play for my club, I wish him all the best.