Pressure grows on Luis Suarez as striker struggles to hit his old highs at Barcelona
Uruguayan baring the brunt of Barca fans' frustrations after club's stuttering start to the season
You hear the chant less and less at Camp Nou. To the tune of Depeche Mode’s ‘Just can’t get enough’, fans sing ‘Lu-is Sua-rez’.
Liverpool fans sang it, Barça fans sing it. Depeche Mode are from England but sell out bigger venues in Spain. One of trio lives in Catalonia, but the songs have turned to whistles for the 32-year-old Suarez. They’re getting just enough of Suarez and they’re not liking what they see.
Suarez is not playing well; he’s scapegoated as the main offender in Barca’s poor start to the season. He’s slower than he was and though he still holds the ball up well, he's lost some of his control. Suarez looks heavy, but he can still conjure the spectacular.
Against Valencia two weeks ago, he came on with 30 minutes left and scored two stunning individual goals with that hammer of a right foot.
His team were leading 3-1 at the time, the pressure was off. They were his only goals this season. True, he’s missed two of Barça’s six league games to a calf injury, but he’s been poor. He looks like a luxury in a team that can’t afford one.
In a recent interview, former Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic said of his former foe: “He is an energetic player. He’s different from Aguero who doesn’t run for 90 minutes – he’s a player who uses instinct. Everything is done in bursts. I don’t think he knows exactly what he’s doing but he succeeds.
“The ball will go through a defender’s legs and people will think it’s an accident, but he has this sheer force to do it.”
It was a compliment since Vidic was asked to pick out the best he’d played against, but he’s a fading force.
The qualities which helped make Suarez so successful, the selfishness, the ego, the self-centered streak, work against him when things are going badly. He should not be written off just yet, though.
Suarez has started the season slowly before. He didn’t score in six of the first eight league games last term, but his drought in European games became a big issue last season.
He scored one goal in the 10 Champions League games he started. It was the same as the season before – one goal in 10 games, that goal also coming in the home leg of the tie Barca would be eliminated in.
It’s not enough and his total goals tally has fallen gradually in the last four years. From the ridiculous 59 he scored in 2015-16, including a Pichichi Trophy winning 40 league goals, he’s scored 37, 31 and 25 in subsequent seasons.
Suarez is one of the greatest centre forwards in Barca’s history and he’s won the lot, but he’s not what he was. He does have powerful allies, including the most important one he could hope for, in close friend Lionel Messi.
They’re the same age and neighbours to the south of Barcelona, but they always were having grown up just 190 miles apart in the vastness of the South American pampas. Their partners are close friends too, their children go to the same English school.
Messi is the most important person at Barca and wields huge influence in a dressing room which has always had more power than the mangers, including Pep Guardiola.
Former strike partners who have not met the approval of the world’s greatest player have found themselves sidelined. Suarez has long earned his approval and their strike partnership was the best in football.
For the first time this season, against Villarreal on Wednesday, Barcelona started with Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Suarez up front. They needed a win after two away defeats and a draw in their first three games away from home.
Form at home hasn’t been a problem, but Villarreal and Santi Cazorla – who received a standing ovation from the Camp Nou crowd when he was subbed – are good enough to trip up any team on their day.
At the start of this season, that triumvirate was the strike force they thought would lead them to a ninth La Liga title in 12 years and a first Champions League title in five.
Griezmann would be the expensive addition to the established order given the doubts over Ousmane Dembele's professionalism .
It worked in the first 20 minutes against Villarreal as they moved into a 2-0 lead, but Barca haven't looked like Barca this season, especially away from home. They were wretched at Granada on Saturday and managed only one shot on target. Suarez was the worst of a bad lot, as he was in Dortmund days previous.
Gerard Pique used the word "grey" to describe his team at the moment and partly blamed a commercially driven pre-season when there was “a lot of travel and too little training”. Barca played in Japan and the United States. They went east, they went west. And so did their form when they returned.
When asked about Suarez, Pique said: “I understand the fans have their opinion on Suarez. They pay for their tickets and can say if we’re not doing well, but players are people, too. We can’t be 100 per cent in every game. I wouldn't give too much importance to the whistles.”
There are bright spots for Barca. Ansu Fati again impressed when he came on against Villarreal. He replaced Suarez, who was greeted with whistles and limited applause.
The 16-year-old has made a huge impression, yet when he gets into space, he is overlooked by Suarez. The Uruguayan would be screaming at the youngster if it was the other way around.
The forward line of Dembele, Griezmann and Fati looked more dynamic than anything seen at Camp Nou for a while. Frenkie de Jong looks a top Barca-class player, too.
Barca won as they were expected to, though it didn’t help that Messi, making his first start at Camp of the season, went off at half-time.
His season has yet to properly start and he is a doubt for the must win weekend game at Getafe. That’s Messi who got back to Barcelona from Milan at 2am on a match day after winning yet another award.
Meanwhile, the mood at Camp Nou remains "grey", with fans unconvinced by their team, their manager and with Suarez.
Updated: September 25, 2019 07:00 PM