Luis Suarez Return Reminds us of His Brilliance

It is a joy to watch the Uruguayan start to show the quality at Barcelona again.

Published: 22nd February 2015 03:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 22nd February 2015 03:00 PM   |  A+A-

Luis Suarez-Ap

LONDON: He's back. Luis Suarez is back on English soil on Tuesday, sprinting out with Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium in the Champions League. The pantomime boos will ring out. Manchester City fans will remember they have history with the former Liverpool striker, including a shocking tumble decried as "Dive of the Season" by the Manchester Evening News last April.

In a busy 2014, the Uruguayan also achieved the unique double of proving England's nemesis and his own downfall at the World Cup, scoring twice against Roy Hodgson's side and then biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, bringing worldwide vilification and a lengthy suspension.

It also needs remembering that a magnificent footballer is returning. Suarez is the reigning Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year and the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year for his prolific work at Liverpool last season. His 31 goals earned him joint ownership of the Golden Shoe with Cristiano Ronaldo for leading league scorer in Europe.

Ominously for City, Suarez is running into form, just like Barcelona themselves, although they conceded early to Malaga on Saturday. They have sought to shrug off the "Total Crisis" headlines of scarcely a month ago when performances were unconvincing, there were tensions between Lionel Messi and the coach, Luis Enrique, and the sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, the man who welcomed Suarez, left the club.

After a slow settling-in period following his spell in exile, a player bought for a fee that the Catalans give as euros 81?million (pounds 64?million) and the English as pounds 75?million now parades more of his old Anfield swagger. Increasing numbers of plaudits followed the 28-year-old into Saturday's match with Malaga. He's needed them, especially as the last wearer of the No?9 shirt, Alexis Sanchez, has been a runaway success at Arsenal. Some distinguished names have adorned that shirt, including Samuel Eto'o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Patrick Kluivert and the Brazilian Ronaldo.

So Suarez's recent success has been particularly timely. In his previous nine matches in La Liga and Copa del Rey, Suarez's contribution read: goal (Elche), goal and assist (Atletico Madrid), assist (Deportivo La Coruna), nothing (Atletico), assist (Atletico), assist (Villarreal), goal (Athletic Bilbao), assist (Villarreal) and goal (Levante). That last strike was spectacular, the scissors-kick opportunity created by stealthily stepping away from Ivan Ramis as Adriano cut the ball back. Suarez leapt up, meeting the ball with his left foot, arrowing it down and in from 10 yards.

His first goal in that run of good form, in the 5-0 win over Elche at the Nou Camp, saw him break down the inside-left channel, take a quick look up, cut inside and shoot just as Sergio Pelegrin and Edu Albacar threw themselves vainfully at the ball. He received a hug from Neymar and then an embrace from Messi, the other celebrated components of Barcelona's fearsome attacking trident who all started against Malaga.

Even during some difficult early days in Spain, when he was struggling to score, his suitability was questioned and he was learning a different role in the world of Neymar and Messi, Suarez's phenomenal work ethic and creativity were as noticeable as ever. For all the deeply unpleasant elements to his game, Suarez possesses so many positive qualities, not least his constant application and willingness to make chances for team-mates.

On his Oct 25 debut against Real Madrid, Suarez swept the ball from the right for Neymar to score. The interest in the return of such a controversial character was so intense that the club released footage of Suarez walking calmly through Barcelona airport en route to his flight to Madrid, dealing patiently with all manner of autograph and selfie requests. He said a polite "de nada" ("it's nothing") here and there as he posed and scribbled.

The message from Barcelona was that their contentious signing can be a decent role model.

A fortnight later, in the win over Almeria, Suarez engineered goals for Neymar and Jordi Alba with fine passes, again from the right, the first low and pinpoint to the Brazilian, the second lofted across for the full-back to run on to. In the Catalan Super Cup against Espanol on Oct 29, Suarez again confirmed the trait of selflessness by twisting and turning, controlling the ball with his left foot, throwing Raul Rodriguez off?balance. He then used his right to dink the ball to the far post for Gerard Pique to head in. Having created the opening so close to goal, Suarez could easily have shot but decided to pass. A smiling Pique pointed to his new colleague in appreciation.

Even when Zubizarreta departed, and there were doubts raised over his own future, Suarez continued to give everything. Enrique has described Suarez's number of assists as "spectacular", numbering eight in 14 La Liga appearances, compared to 12 in 33 Premier League games.

Barcelona's focus is inevitably more on Messi and Neymar for goals but Suarez still needs to contribute more. Last season at Liverpool, he averaged a Premier League goal every 95.61 minutes, contrasting with one every four hours in La Liga. But some of his touches have taken the breath away, including in the disappointing defeat to Celta Vigo when he span away from Jonny and nutmegged Nolito in a blur of Blaugrana movement.

As events in that nine-game period revealed, Suarez is now revelling in the experience. He is on a lucrative five-year contract in a glorious city, speaking his language. It is the city loved by his wife Sofia Balbi, his rock during stormy times, and where her family has lived for more than a decade. Barcelona's fans have been supportive, chanting his name when he encountered some testing moments against Villarreal, particularly after missing a good chance fashioned by Messi.

However frustrating for such a patriot, the Uruguayan's nine-game competitive international ban does allow him to concentrate fully on embedding himself at Barcelona and he will also have this summer free, missing the Copa America in Chile.

Now he is back briefly in England. The last sighting of Suarez on English soil was at full-time at Anfield after a 2-1 win over Newcastle United on May 11, having scored 69 goals in 110 Premier League appearances (82 in 133 in all competitions). There were shameful episodes, the racist abuse of Patrice Evra and another example of his dental tricks on Branislav Ivanovic, prompting the league's chief executive Richard Scudamore to remark that Suarez was "an accident waiting to happen" and "I can't say I'm sorry to see him go". Certain referees confided the same.

Suarez's misdemeanours will not be forgotten easily yet his excellence last season was rightly hailed and honoured. He was voted Player of the Year by his peers, although City fans will feel that had the polling been held later in the season, Yaya Toure would have won as City overtook Liverpool. He earned the writers' award for his goals, his constant running and for largely exemplary behaviour during 2013-14.

As Barcelona returned some of their ticket allocation for Tuesday, there will be even more City fans given the chance to back their team and barrack Suarez. They will take comfort from the memory that in his six games against Vincent Kompany and his fellow-defenders, Suarez scored only once, a magnificent free-kick in a 2-2 draw at Anfield in 2012.

Kompany's duel with Suarez has always been closely contested, occasionally heatedly, although the Uruguayan may be more a concern for left-back Gael Clichy assuming he starts wide. Kompany will need to organise the offside trap well, something he frequently managed during Suarez's Liverpool days, as Barcelona break quickly behind enemy lines.

City will be wary for many reasons. Even with only that one goal, Suarez has tended to be a pest for City. He was captain the last time he stepped out at the Etihad on Boxing Day 2013, taking the honours with Steven Gerrard recovering from a hamstring injury. He was denied a legitimate penalty claim when his shirt was pulled by Joleon Lescott but his subsequent theatrics angered City as did his studs-up challenge on Joe Hart.

In his last encounter with City, on April 13 at Anfield, Suarez was booked by Mark Clattenburg for catching Martin Demichelis late, released Raheem Sterling with an exquisite pass for Liverpool's first, and then tumbled when challenged by Demichelis. Clattenburg signalled no foul but no simulation for what the Manchester Evening News considered the "Dive of the Season".

City were convinced that Suarez should have walked for a second yellow. They had been at Clattenburg from even before half-time, asking him to keep an eye on Suarez's suspect manipulation of the laws of gravity. He even managed to upset David Silva, who possesses one of the longer fuses in football. City were hardly angels towards Suarez, hitting him with a couple of late tackles.

The man himself has a point to prove to an English audience. It would be little surprise to find Suarez's name in the headlines again.

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