Luis Suarez - When only superlatives will do

Posted by Yorkykopite on August 13, 2011, 01:41:03 PM

Luis Suarez – When only superlatives will do

Here’s one prediction for the season – we’re soon going to be running out of superlatives to describe number 7. The magnificent Luis Suarez. The incredible Luis Suarez. The astonishing Luis Suarez. The supreme Luis Suarez. That lot might see us through the first fortnight. After that it will be time to fling open the thesaurus. Even then, there won’t be enough superlatives to go around. We just can’t get enough. 

I can't think of a player outside Barcelona I'd rather have in my team than Luis Suarez. Amid all the wonderful changes that have happened to the club since Fenway took over it's hard to isolate one ingredient and say "This! This explains why we are contenders again!" But I think Suarez is that ingredient, perhaps even more than Kenny's second coronation. I love the bloke.

There are massive expectations on the lad’s shoulders this season. Every Kopite I know is standing a bit taller this August because of the lad from Uruguay. You can bet our players are too. They’ll have caught glimpses of him in Copa America, even if they didn’t see the entire tournament. In that competition, just as in the closing months of last year’s Premier League, Suarez showed why great individual players only achieve greatness because they understand and interpret the needs of the team. His team lifted the cup of course. And he got a personal bauble too, being recognized as the most valuable player of the tournament. Now he starts his first full season at Anfield as a fully-fledged world-class player – already loved by us, already feared by opponents. No defender will relish coming up against him. He has more aggression than they do. He has more technique. He has more wisdom. He has more desire. That’ll be tough for a lot of people.

Mastery of the ball
You just have to look at some of the goals he’s already scored to know that Suarez is in danger of single-handedly refashioning Liverpool FC as an attacking force. The goal against Sunderland where a cul-de-sac suddenly became the King’s Highway, the assisted goal v Man United where three of their defenders were transformed before our eyes into reef knots, the goal v Fulham where the dummy on the keeper sent several thousand spectators heading towards the exits as well.

The lad has a mastery of the ball that only one player in the world – you know who – can trump. Look at him when he’s tripped or when a tackle earths him. He’s still looking to control the ball. And not just control it either, but keep it moving so that the defender can’t get a second, more telling, tackle in. A tumble is used to his advantage. It becomes part his repertoire. It is incorporated into a dribble or shot and is therefore invested with the most precious thing in a forward’s arsenal – surprise.  Beware Suarez when he appears to stumble. That’s when he’s at his most dangerous.

The goal v Man Utd was like this. A falling Suarez still managed to poke out a dying leg to beat Van der Sar’s lunge. That dying leg was the football equivalent of the blow that Muhammed Ali lay on Sonny Liston. It shouldn’t have happened. It came in ‘down time’ when the ‘real move’ had (apparently) ended. But with Suarez these deadly afterthoughts happen all the time. In the Copa America, recently, I saw him dribbling with his knee while his shin was stroking the turf. Anything to keep that ball moving and to give him the traction to get on his feet again.

I think this is also all part of the man’s belief that he can capitalize in areas where other attackers begin to surrender. We’ve noticed this already at Liverpool. The lad absolutely thrives on the lofted ball to the flanks - the kind of pass that most strikers begin to resent once it happens for the third or fourth time during a match. It's difficult being pushed to the margins of the pitch if you're starting from a central position, especially when you're being hotly pursued by a marker. What on earth are you meant to do with a pass that so obviously hands the initiative to the defender like that? Suarez, though, thrives on this stuff. To be pushed to the touchline, with his back to goal, becomes an opportunity for him to isolate a defender. To be facing the wrong way is merely a chance for him to apply an unreadable turn. In fact the more desperate the situation - the more the dice are loaded for the defence - the more Suarez seems able to exploit things to his advantage. You have to feel for his marker on these occasions. Hangeland (a very good defender) is a case in point. The more he did the right thing that famous night, the more he put himself in jeopardy.


Maximum damage
What I particularly love about Suarez is his desire to inflict maximum damage with each touch of the ball. His primary instinct is to turn into the fray and to apply pressure quickly to opposing defences. He’s quite capable of laying the ball off if he’s tightly marked and facing the wrong way, but his preference is to turn his man and head for goal. That can look selfish. It will look selfish to some people this coming season. But it’s Luis’s commitment to the outrageous that makes him what he is – a monumental riddle for anyone trying to mark him. Some of us will become exasperated – as was often the case with Torres - when he loses the ball by apparently trying to do too much. But it’s good to remember that without players who attempt the outrageous the ordinary things – the metronomic things – become much harder for everyone else to do.

And I don’t think ‘selfish’ covers it. Turning into the fray and running at defenders can actually be a supreme act of selflessness, because a team can’t function as a team unless certain players take an additional creative burden and develop space by eliminating their markers. Suarez will happily shoulder this burden. What he needs – what we expect Kenny will give him – is what Torres rarely got. This is midfielders getting beyond him. Much of Nando’s heroic work was left unredeemed because he was too often isolated and support was too slow to come. On those occasions there seemed little point him turning with the ball because he was invariably faced with a wall of defenders and no one in Red in the same building. But our team-play has changed under Dalglish and when Suarez is facing the ‘wrong way’ with the ball at his feet we are now treated to the sight of Meireles or Maxi breaking beyond him and making the pitch big again. 

This is how it should be. If Liverpool are to capitalize on Suarez’s genius then the rest of the team will need to do more than merely survive in his shadow. They will need their own footballing integrity and will need to demand more out of Suarez, rather than simply bask in what he’s giving them. With respect, I don’t think Torres ever really got that at Liverpool. Gerrard pushed him of course – Gerrard does that with everyone he plays with. Benayoun too, maybe, expanded the number 9’s game but he was rarely on the pitch when Torres was. The rest tended to be pure beneficiaries, feeding of all his hard work, enjoying the extra bit of space he created for them, but failing – ultimately – to help Torres in the way he was helping them.

So who will help Luis? Carroll will for one.

We’ve all been encouraged to think that Downing will be the one to supply the big man with crosses. Heighway on to Toshack. Barnes on to Aldridge. Downing on to Carroll. The looping cross, the crashing header. I’ll drink a glass to seeing a few of those this season. But let’s not fall into the gaping pundit-trap. There’s more ways of bringing Carroll into the game than the wide man and the wicked cross. This is true, even if we talk purely in terms of Carroll being an aerial threat.

I reckon there’s a fair chance that it won’t be Downing (or Charlie Adam) who will provide most aerial assists for Andy Carroll this season. I bet it will be Suarez. Anybody who saw Suarez in the match v Chile recently will have noticed how he got to the byline on three occasions and, on seeing nothing but forests of legs in front of him, sent delightful chips into the penalty box instead. Unfortunately for Uruguay it was Forlan on the end of them and he couldn’t capitalize. Carroll will.

But Carroll is a quick-footed player too and he has imagination. He’s still learning Suarez’s movement and Suarez is still learning his. They are strong characters, both of them. I expect them to push each other this season and to demand more of each other in the process.

Shoot!
Finally, a word about Suarez’s shooting style. It’s the modern style of shooting, introduced by (the great) Ronaldo of Brazil. Suarez shoots early, with the ball under his body and the laces going over the top, not the round the edges. It’s a technique that generates savage top-spin and it’s a style that leaves little margin for error – which is why we’ll see him (and other top players) occasionally blast the thing miles over the bar when they get it wrong.

But the benefits are obvious. The early take means goalies are rarely prepared in the way they like to be when Suarez shoots. And the trajectory they have to deal with is awful because of the late dip produced by the top spin. Suarez’s shooting style also means he is able to shoot from what look to be crazy angles. Top spin in footy – as in tennis – can widen the target area and make it easier to hit a mark. The amazing goal against Sunderland was a supreme vindication of this technique. Once the ball was bulging the net it looked an obvious shot but in reality it was conceived by a genius operating at an extremely high level of skill.

We’ll be seeing equally breathtaking stuff this season. There will be some ecstatic football along the way. Come on lad! Do it for Liverpool! Let the superlatives roll.

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