Liverpool: Why Luis Suarez Can Be the Reds' 20-Goal-a-Season Striker

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2012

NORWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates scoring his second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Liverpool at Carrow Road on September 29, 2012 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Luis Suarez: maverick, magician, maligned and magnificent.

The Uruguayan forward ticks all the boxes in terms of a creative, pesky, technically-superb centre forward, but has been criticised in the past for, amongst other things, not putting the ball in the back of the net with enough frequency or consistency.

At his previous club, Ajax, Suarez was a pure goal-machine. He scored 35 goals in 33 league games for the Dutch club in the 2009-10 season and totaled 111 in 159 games for them overall.

His first 18 months at Liverpool—he joined mid-season in January 2011—could be termed as respectable in goal scoring terms, if not exactly spectacular. Suarez amassed four in his first half-season and 17 last campaign, giving him 21 goals in 52 games in all competitions.

A goal every 2.48 games is fairly respectable, given that he brings so much else to the side, but the problem for many was that Suarez was seen as and was being played as the main man up top, the No. 9 position with a No. 7 on his back. He wasn't scoring the quantity of goals at that position that Liverpool needed to really sustain a challenge for the top four in the league.

It's not all down to one man, of course. As a team, Liverpool simply didn't score enough goals last season. They hit only 47 goals in their 38 Premier League games during 2011-12, which was a very real factor in failing to convert a high number of draws at home into the wins required.

Suarez certainly contributed to Liverpool missing a significant number of shots. He ended the season with 11 goals in the league from over 100 shots—just a 10 percent conversion rate. As a team, the Reds were slightly worse, with a 9 percent conversion rate from their 667 shots—a very poor return.

There must be, of course, the acknowledgement that Suarez created an awful lot of his own chances. He was not a striker in a team which was supplying constant through balls, one-one-ones with a goalkeeper or close-range finishes for him.

Luis Suarez buzzes angrily around the last line of defence, drops deep to combine play with midfielders and works the channels with ridiculous intensity, never giving defenders a moment's peace nor his own teammates, at times, a clue of where he is going to pop up.

Perhaps this restricted Suarez's own ability to be in space to take chances, or perhaps the team in general was not as structured as it needed to be.

Either way, Liverpool are a different club this season with a new manager, plenty of new (and younger) faces in the side and Luis Suarez himself has something of an improved support system. It is this, more than anything else, which suggests that the marksman could improve to such an extent in the goalscoring stakes that he becomes the 20-goal-a-season man that the Reds have needed since Fernando Torres decided to retire from being clinical.

Now playing with a true front three, Suarez has the licence to roam deep or wide in the knowledge that the wide forwards will look to utilise the space behind him and that runners from midfield will also try to make up ground in the box.

This caused huge problems for Liverpool last season as, when Suarez was busy creating or linking up, nobody would often be in the penalty area to get on the end of crosses or attempted passes.

Brendan Rodgers clearly wants Suarez stationed as close to the centre of the goal as possible, but his wizardry on the ball dictates that he also needs to be able to draw out his markers from the defensive line and create gaps for other players to exploit—such as Fabio Borini almost did against Manchester United, such as Nuri Sahin did against Norwich City.

Those second-line runners will be extremely important for the Reds in their current system. It's all well and good the midfielders racking up 90 percent-plus pass completion rates, but they also have to lend a hand to finishing off those moves at the right times.

A 21-pass move ending with midfielder Steven Gerrard scoring the Reds' fifth goal at Carrow Road indicates that the right moves are being made in that regard, too.

It was Suarez, though, who scored a hat-trick in the game—his second in two games at that particular stadium—and he took his tally for the season to five goals in six Premier League games, and six goals in seven games overall this season.

Not bad for a player who some had too-hastily claimed would never be able to be Liverpool's main striker.

To be fair, Suarez isn't exactly a striker. At least not in the Darren Bent/Jermain Defoe English sense of the word.

He's an all-round attacker; a playmaker, wide forward, off-the-shoulder striker and deep-lying second forward all rolled into one.

Statistically, Suarez is shooting more often so far this season—a shot every 18 minutes compared to every 24 minutes over the course of last term—but, crucially, his conversion rate is improved to 17 percent. This is still some way off the likes of current top scorer Demba Ba (six league goals this season, 35 percent conversion rate), but perhaps fans need to accept that Suarez takes on enough difficult shots, when perhaps there is no other option available, to account for this.

The Reds' No. 7 is very much a heart-on-sleeve kind of player. He wears his emotions in full view and is desperate to win at everything—every 50-50 ball, every challenge he rides in the dribble, every game he plays.

That kind of intensity is difficult at times to reign in at the very last split-second, to calm ones self before shooting.

Importantly, Suarez's improved finishing in front of goal this season is not coming at the expense of his all-round game.

In every vital area including tackling, ground and aerial duels, open play passing completion and his minutes per shot on target, there are very small increases or decreases. By and large, he is having the same effect on the game, though he has improved his number of dribbles per game and the rate at which he creates a chance for a team mate. It now stands at one every 34 minutes compared to every 40 minutes last season.

Only six minutes' difference there, but it essentially means that Suarez is creating close to one additional clear chance per game and a Suarez-created chance is frequently a good chance.

The willingness of his team-mates to get into the box quicker is also highlighted by the fact he already has one assist this season. Last year as a whole he claimed just three.

Consistency is everything of course at the top end of the Premier League and Liverpool are still getting to know exactly what manager Rodgers requires from every player and every position.

But the final third play of the Reds has already increased significantly since the beginning of the season and with the added pace and guile of Raheem Sterling and Suso, as well as the movement of Borini and the possibility of playing Gerrard further forward, the team should not be lacking in either confidence nor ability in those most dangerous of areas.

And with Suarez full of confidence after a great goalscoring start to the season and continuing to play more often than not in the central role, it seems almost certain that he can add significantly to his tally over the coming run of fixtures.

20 goals for the Premier League season is certainly not beyond Luis Suarez—after all, just six games into the campaign he is already a quarter of the way there.


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