Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Luis Suarez is Gone... Is the Sky Falling?


Or, wait. Kinda.

Hold on... No, it's not.

On the surface, this is devastating. This is LeBron leaving Cleveland for Miami, in terms of your best player taking your team to the brink of glory and then skipping town to go to a superteam.

Of course, we know the story of the Heat's "Big 3" who were supposed to win Not One, Not Two, Not Three, etc. but actually only won two. Barcelona are one of the top three or four teams in the world in terms of pure skill level, top to bottom, with names that even the casualest soccer fan would know (Messi, Neymar, Mascherano of torn asshole fame, and Mr. Shakira).

Lucky bastard
This is also LeBron leaving Miami for Cleveland, in terms of a great player in the prime of his career making a career decision based on family issues. 

Unless your face has been buried in a pair of soft, pillowing breasts over the past month, you've heard that King James has returned to the shitty dominion from whence he came, and Suarez's wife's family (along with the allure of playing for the ever-elite Barrrrrrthelona) have convinced him to leave the Reds. Check out these two quotes from the stars about returning to a home. 

LeBron: "My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."

Luis: "This club did everything they could, but playing and living in Spain, where my wife's family lives, is a lifelong dream and ambition." 

It's a surprisingly adult decision from two players whose antics have often been described as childish.

Suarez is more fiercely protective of his wife and his career than you probably are to your gambling/alcohol/FIFA 2014 addiction, as chronicled in this incredible profile by Wright Thompson. Seriously, take a night off from your vice of choice and read that piece - it's tremendous. 

So, rather than bring terror to back lines across the English Premier League next year, he'll be jockeying for playing time with some of the best forwards in the world in Spain. 

What does this mean for Liverpool?

A couple things.

1. Goals from nothing will dry up. 

Every sport has a few players who can create points out of absolutely nowhere - names that come up immediately in my mind, past and present, include Devin Hester, Kevin Durant, Pavel Datsyuk, and Giancarlo Stanton (imperfect comparison, but whatever).

Suarez is one of those players. Just look at the GIFage below.

HauntingDigitalGerenuk Luis Saurez volleys a bouncing ball over John Ruddy from fully 40 yards [GIF] 

Suarez solo goal vs Norwich

EnchantingImmaculateHumpbackwhale video iframe

Those goals, specifically the first and third, are what I'm talking about - goals scored with the type of audacity and panache that few in the global game possess. 


Kid can play.

2. Liverpool's team creativity will suffer. 

Many teams employ a striker of the poaching variety: one of those forwards who sits on the back shoulder of a central defender, timing his runs into the box and trying to end up on the end of crosses for tap-in goals. Classic poachers include all-time leading World Cup scorer Miroslav Klose and renowned Italian offside artist Filippo Inzaghi.

Suarez is the opposite - he'll drop deep into the midfield to receive the ball and link seamlessly with his midfielders to spring offensive attacks. Statistically, this is borne out by his 12 assists last season, good for second in the league (behind his teammate, Steven Gerrard). 

The most deadly part of Liverpoool's attack last year was the interplay between Suarez and his fleet-footed "S" brothers - Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling. Sturridge, 'Pool's other forward, finished in second place in the league goals race, with 21 - 10 behind Suarez. Sterling terrorized left backs with his speed and deception on the wing, often put through by Suarez himself. 

With Luis in Spain, the Reds will need Phillippe Coutinho to step into a more prominent attacking midfield role. The Brazilian is still young but has shown the stereotypical "flashes of brilliance" - we'll need to see more from him as he sends new boys like Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana, and Rickie Lambert into space this season.

3. The defense will need to step up big time.

Pretty basic analysis here: the best defense is a good offense. That was Liverpool's strategy last year - they went out with the mindset that they were going to pulverize every team into submission, and damn the torpedoes. This was the reason that they scored the second most goals in the league (101) but conceded more than 6 of the top 10 teams (50, to champion Manchester City's 37). 

While I'm pretty confident in our retooled offense's ability to put up numbers, I'm worried about the defense. 

First off, as Steven Gerrard ages, he'll start to drift further and further back to play in a Pirlo-like role, pinging balls to the forwards and wingers. However, he's not the most mobile dude on the pitch as a 35-year-old Englishman with thousands of miles on his boots. 

Secondly, our actual defense is in flux. We have a first-choice right back in England's Glen Johnson, who I'm fine with. Jamie Carragher is retired, and one of our center backs is a berserker Slovak by the name of Martin Skrtel...

Remember me?
who is not reliable enough (in my own personal opinion) to be the anchor at the back of this defense. The great blog Anfield Index has a potential lineup for this season that includes France's Mamadou Sakho at the other center back position, which frightens me to no end. I guess we could have speedster Jose Enrique or Uruguayan youngster Sebastian Coates on the left, but those aren't inspiring options either. 

So, in short:

The sky is falling more than it isn't falling. For all of his noted on-field indiscretions and associated media scrutiny, Luis Suarez is a once-in-a-generation talent. He's the kind of player that LFC fans thought we had in Fernando Torres - a mercurial striker with the ability to score goals from anywhere, at any time, and more importantly, the ability to put the team on his back. We're going to have to alter the tactics this season, so don't bet on quite as many 4- and 5- goal games as last year. 

Sigh. We'll always have Norwich.

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