Is Luis Suarez showing his age in the Champions League?
Background photo: Tsutomu Takasu, CC BY 2.0
The Champions League Round of 16 first legs concluded last week. Ten-man Manchester City survived a huge scare to snatch a vital 3-2 victory over Bundesliga outfit Schalke 04. Atletico Madrid rode a second-half surge to a 2-0 victory over Juventus at the Wanda Metropolitano. The Old Lady has it all to do if she wants to return to the venue for the final on 1 June.
On the other hand, fans with crystal balls knew to sleep through the Tuesday evening matches to save their energy for the humpday clashes. Billed as a big European night with Catalan giants Barcelona travelling to City slayers Lyon while Liverpool hosted Bayern at Anfield with an array of stars featuring in the two contests, it was a dud. Despite the presence of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Memphis Depay, Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Robert Lewandowski, the entire evening ended goalless.
While both matches and all the attacking stars disappointed, Luis Suarez was the deadest weight on proceedings. Deployed alongside Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele, the Uruguayan sharpshooter repeatedly misfired on a very important night for Barcelona. He cut a frustrated figure throughout the game, wasting clean chances, putting in a poor overall display at the Olympic Stadium.
Let's not get carried away. Suarez ranks second in La Liga behind [guess who?] Lionel Messi for goals with 15. Continuous subpar performances in big matches draw notice, though. Critics question whether he's too far past his prime to help Barcelona achieve its loftiest goal. Is he any use to them in the Champions League?
After firing blank against Olympic Lyon on Tuesday, Suarez has now gone more than 25 hours without involving himself directly in a Champions League away goal. His last came against Roma on September 16, 2015. A lot can happen in three-and-a-half years unless your name is Luis Suarez.
Moreover, the Uruguayan scored just once in his last seventeen Champions League games. He is yet to find the back of the net in the competition this season despite putting in 450 minutes on the pitch.
Barcelona desperately want to win the title they last claimed in 2015, back when Suarez was pumping in the goals. Pre-season, the usually reserved Messi spoke, promising to do everything he could to return the European crown to the Nou Camp this season. He has, scoring six goals in five games. However, as his struggles with Argentina prove, even the maestro needs help. Relying solely on the diminutive forward's genius won't take Barcelona where they wish to go. Suarez's impotence is a huge concern.
Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and recent recruit Malcom all found the back of the net in the group stage. The Uruguayan's extended absence from the scoresheet must weigh heavily on manager Ernesto Valverde's mind. A different tack might be in order. Rather than trying to find his bankrupt forward goals, maybe it's time to let someone else provide them. Valverde can revert to the scheme in which Messi plays the false nine with two from Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, and Malcom on either side. Kevin-Prince Boateng doesn't have Suarez's nuance as a striker but more playing time could make him more comfortable in the role.
However he sets up the squad, whoever he taps on the shoulder, Valverde is spoiled for choices as Barcelona manager. It's time he started making some.