Before we start, I am not a Liverpool or Luis Suarez fan. I promise! I was fortunate enough to attend Sunday’s demolition game between Liverpool and Tottenham. Although curious to see two coaches I admire, Brendan Rodgers and Andre Villa Boas, set up their teams, I could not wait to see Luis Suarez up close. Working with a fanatical Liverpool fan and knowing a fair few at home also, I have found myself surrounded with a Suarez fan club almost everywhere I turn. I walked away from White Hart Lane however, with a greater appreciation of how much actually goes into his game. Talent is obviously there, but it is only a starting point. I have chosen three areas in Suarez’s game that impressed me the most. I also found a goal or two to show how he has done this in previous games. You are what you repeatedly do, and Luis Suarez certainly proves this theory.
THE OUTLET OPTION
One of Suarez’s most talked about strengths is his work rate off the ball. He is known for harassing defenders in possession and never giving them a second to be comfortable or to relax. Sunday was no exception, but I was really impressed by the position he took when the opposition had beaten the first two lines of Liverpool pressure and were further up the field. Most center forwards will stand on the halfway line, watch the game, and offer support as a reaction to when their team wins the ball. Suarez does a lot more than that. When Spurs were on the attack, he always got himself in line with the ball. Although still 40 plus yards from the play at times, he offers his teammates an outlet pass as soon as they win possession. You can see in the diagram below how he does this.
The benefit of doing this is that his teammates know exactly where he is, he is always expecting the ball, and Liverpool can counter in the blink of an eye. This did not result in a goal on Sunday but led to numerous Liverpool counters and, at the same time, prevented Spurs from sustaining attacks. Below you can see Suarez doing this to devastating effect against Norwich. If you can turn defense into attack with one outlet pass, how dangerous does your team become and how difficult do you become to defend against?
DIAGONAL PASS INTO DANGER ZONE
Spurs and Villa Boas were heavily criticized on Sunday for playing a high line, not pressing the ball, and allowing runners in behind. I felt Liverpool, and Suarez in particular, were even more dangerous when Spurs dropped deeper and conceded space in front of their back four. This scenario, when Liverpool enjoyed spells of possession, allowed Suarez to receive the ball in a danger zone when he could turn and create. The difference from the outlet ball is that this has to be a diagonal pass which allows him to open up, rather than a straight ball which would invite pressure. In the diagram below, I have highlighted the area in front of the back four that Suarez will attempt to receive the ball from a diagonal pass.
In the video below, you can see Suarez doing this against QPR last season. Watch the replay to see his opposite movement to create a couple of yards of space, and then once he faces up a defender there is only one outcome!
Working With Wide Players
Another interesting aspect of Suarez’s game on Sunday was his relationship with wide players when they cut inside. Often center forwards become static when this happens and wait and see what the wide player will do before reacting to it. Suarez, like most parts of his game, sees this action as a trigger to get across his defender and wants the ball ‘slipped’ in for him to do damage. Again, he starts on the furthest central defender so not to kill his space, then as soon as the outside player cuts in, Suarez makes his run. The timing of the run and the intent of getting into a danger area to score makes it such a tough thing to do. Below you can see a diagram of the run and the movement from the wide player.
Another good example of him doing this earlier on in the season is below against Fulham.
On one hand, I did not learn anything new on Sunday. Suarez’s movement is outstanding, world class, almost impossible to stop. However, what I got to see up close was how intelligent and purposeful his movement is. That is what makes him a great player. At no stage of a game does Luis Suarez ‘switch off’ or take it easy. He is always looking at how he can receive a ball and then look to create something – whether the ball is in a central area, at the feet of a wide player, or even 100 yards from goal. Hard work is only the beginning. Add to that skill and technical qualities, appreciation of what his teammates will do within the system, and a single minded determination to score at every opportunity, and there you have it – a one off. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him. I wish every defender, team, and coach, the very best of luck trying to stop him.