Probably the most significant event of the victory against Sevilla was Messi’s surpassing Telmo Zarra and becoming the all-time La Liga top scorer, and undoubtedly he was the man of the match. However, just like how Messi himself values the team’s form and progress than his own individual records and glory, I believe that this game meant more than that.
A big win against Sevilla, last season’s Europa League winner and current 5th place in the domestic league, is a great achievement enough, and what enabled that victory is the greatest thing that the team can take away from the victory.
Messi’s hattrick and Neymar’s superb performance are some of the decisive factors, (another factor would have been Sevilla’s having to deal with their former top player) but in this article I would like to highlight the difference Luis Suarez made in the game.
Suarez was certainly not a prominent player, but nevertheless he played a crucial role, and his performance was conclusive evidence that Barcelona still has the hope of winning not only the domestic league but the Champions League as well. These are some of Suarez’s qualities shown in the game against Sevilla and will continue to be destructive against other opponents.
Holding Off Defenders
This strength of his is something that Barcelona quite lacked in the previous seasons. There was not the so called ‘real 9’ or typical striker who could hold off the opposition defenders’ challenges by using his physicality.
When he received the ball in the opposition third he often maintained possession, and sometimes, even took adventurous but skillful first touches to pass by the defender immediately.
At times he would simply receive the ball, turn around, and dribble through 1 or 2 defenders by using his speed and agility. If Messi, Neymar, and the full backs take advantage of the space and momentum created by these plays, the opposition defenders will only have a more difficult time.
Combination Plays (One-Two Passes)
Suarez’s finishing, shooting technique, and the strength of his teeth are particularly well known as his main strengths. (He did make 12 assists last season in EPL, which is an impressive record, but people seemed to simplify Liverpool’s attacking pattern as Gerrard assist-Suarez goal.)
However, as he demonstrated in the assists he made against Real Madrid and Almeria, Suarez can also work as a helper by creating chances. And even in this game, he not only made 1 assist but also made 4 key passes, the greatest among all players in the game.
Throughout the whole game the 3 forwards consistently attempted to make combination plays to get behind Sevilla’s defense, and Suarez played a key role in this process by being the one provides an option and makes the
Especially the combination play with Jordi Alba in the 69th minute was a true masterpiece; it attested to Suarez’s accurate, technical passing and his keen awareness of the space behind. Even though it has to be admitted that, at the moment, the best ‘real 9’ striker in the world is Benzema, who is renowned for his ability to combine with fellow attackers, Suarez these days is proving himself to be just as capable in the area as him.
This is actually one of Lionel Messi’s greatest strengths. But in the false-9 system, Messi often dropped to midfield or played in the right wing for the sake of playmaking and cut-inside. Thus, even when there was space behind or between the defenders, Barcelona was not able to take advantage of it.
But in this game, Suarez attempted several runs, the most successful of which led to Rakitic’s header goal, the third goal of the match. Suarez’s well-timed cross was superb, but even more amazing was his well-timed run; he was able to take advantage of the space made by Sevilla’s left back’s momentary forward movement.
One of the changes that occurred under the Enrique administration is the increase in the number of direct long balls from the center backs. And this type of play can only be successful when there are not only technically adroit defenders like Pique and Mascherano, but also instinctively space-seeking strikers like Suarez.
Having played as a starter in only 4 games, Suarez is not just better than Pedro, but already seems like a key member of the squad who has played in the team for 2-3 seasons. He has not scored a single goal yet, but the impressive 4 assists compensate for the seemingly disappointing record.
Those 4 assists and his record of 3.3 key passes per game, which is even greater than that of Lionel Messi, and even the low number of shots per game (1.5), corroborate his willingness to contribute to the team in an altruistic manner.
In other words, he acknowledges that, in Barcelona, it is difficult for him to become the heroic figure he used to be in Liverpool and that he needs to try his best for the team’s triumph, not for personal spotlight. And therefore, even though I’ve emphasized the 3 key aspects of Suarez that will enhance the team, his modest and selfless attitude is the true factor that makes him the difference maker.