How will Suarez take to being just another star in Barcelona galaxy?

Neymar has bedded in nicely, but erstwhile Liverpool striker needs to be given his head

Luis Suarez was the sun at the centre of Liverpool’s solar system but he starts out at Barca as a peripheral satellite.  Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters

Luis Suarez was the sun at the centre of Liverpool’s solar system but he starts out at Barca as a peripheral satellite. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters

 

There are many well-founded objections to the unfair economic systems that have resulted in the concentration of the world’s top footballers at a handful of greedy, super-rich clubs. But if Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez, James, Neymar, Kroos, Iniesta, Benzema, Xavi and Sergio Ramos are all on the same pitch at the same time, the rest of the football world understands it has to drop everything and watch.

One fascinating aspect of watching a match with so many stars is figuring out how the new stars will fit in to an overcrowded galaxy. Luis Suarez was the sun at the centre of Liverpool’s solar system but he starts out at Barca as a peripheral satellite.

Everything here revolves around Lionel Messi. It looks as though Luis Enrique intends to use Suarez on the right side of the forward line, with Messi remaining in the middle.

It will be fascinating to see how Suarez adjusts. Last season it was Neymar who, for the first time in his life, had to cope with the idea of not being the best player on his team.

Neymar, at least, had played much of his football for Santos and Brazil as a left-sided forward so he was at home in his Barcelona role to the left of Messi. Suarez’s inclination is to tear across the pitch to wherever he senses opportunity. Deferring to Messi and keeping the shape of the team by staying out wide will require a suppression of his natural instincts – which Suarez happens to regard as the wellspring of his greatness.

Intensity of play

Guardian

He reveals that he spent two hours analysing the time he bit Branislav Ivanovic with a sports psychologist, but declined a second session, worried that “this treatment would make me too calm on the pitch.”

Second Captains

Barcelona will hope Suarez emulates Neymar, who has bedded in nicely after a patchy first season.

Brazil’s 22-year old captain has recovered from the worrying spinal injury that wrecked his World Cup and is currently Barcelona’s top scorer. After three minutes he produced what was to be the only decisive moment of individual brilliance in the match – taking down Suarez’s pass, dancing along the 18-yard line and whipping a shot into the corner with topspin precision that reminded you of a Roger Federer forehand.

From then on, the game was decided by Barcelona’s mistakes.

Two years on from the departure of Pep Guardiola, Barcelona are still in search of a new identity. They have lost the control, intensity and speed that characterised their great years. With Xavi, Dani Alves and Pique in decline, Barcelona needed to add aggression, energy, and tempo. Suarez has all that, but he’s unlikely to improve the defence from his position on the right wing.

Barcelona still share a couple of features with the great side of 2011, namely the goal-scoring of Lionel Messi and an obvious vulnerability on set-pieces and counter-attacks.

Likewise the Madrid of Carlo Ancelotti and the Madrid of his predecessor, Jose Mourinho.

It’s hard to imagine Mourinho ever picking a midfield including Kroos, Modric and Isco, none of whom is a strong defensive player, for a match against Barcelona. And yet there were many moments on Saturday when you could have been watching Mourinho’s Madrid.

For instance, the way Madrid came alive at corners – both their own and Barcelona’s. They scored from Kroos’ corner to Pepe, but they seldom looked more dangerous than when Barcelona were taking a corner.

Under Guardiola, Barcelona preferred short corners, and Luis Enrique might reflect that they should have taken them short on Saturday. Long corners were easily cleared by Pepe or Ramos, opening up the field for the fast Madrid attackers to race at a depopulated defence.

Ivan Rakitic had noticed this from Barcelona’s bench, so it’s to his credit that when he replaced Xavi on 60 minutes he decided to change tack. His first touch was a corner from Madrid’s left. Rather than loft the ball towards Pepe and Ramos, he tried a sly low pass to the edge of the box. Unfortunately his team-mates were not on the same wavelength of cunning and Rakitic’s pass ran straight to James, who knocked it up the line for Isco to chase.

Madrid’s cutting edge

That automated counterattack had Mourinho’s fingerprints all over it. Madrid continue to base much of their game on the defensive and counterattacking systems Mourinho established, while benefiting from the fact that Mourinho himself is no longer around to whip up hysteria and phoney intrigues.

Barcelona, meanwhile, still look like a team in search of a big idea. They have to hope that Suarez is the one to provide it.

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