Why Liverpool's Luis Suarez Is a Better Forward Than Robin Van Persie

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2013

The Premier League top goalscorer race looks like being between just two men this season: Robin van Persie of Manchester United, and Luis Suarez of Liverpool.

Suarez has hit 18 league goals this season so far, while van Persie leads the charts, a single goal ahead of Suarez. After those two, Swansea's Michu and Spurs' Gareth Bale both have 15 strikes, leaving them far enough behind that they are probably out of reach with just 11 matches left to play.

It's not only goals, of course, which determine how effective an attacker is, though they are a thoroughly important metric as well.

But which forward is more important to their team? Who is the better all-round forward?

Both in terms of statistics and in watching games unfold, an argument can be made for Suarez to be heralded as the more complete striker.

While nobody can dismiss the quantity, and quality, of the goals that Robin van Persie scores, his role differs from Suarez's in the team in that he is the centre-forward, the No. 9, the man relied upon to put chances into the net.

Suarez, on the other hand, is required to play the role of chief creator, the man who links the midfield to the front line and makes magic happen for his team—as well as being a regular scorer.

Part of the reason that Liverpool have suffered this term is that Suarez was doing this job for long periods without a van Persie-type player ahead of him in the striking role; the January transfer market saw the Reds take steps to resolve that gap in the team with the signing of Daniel Sturridge.

Statistically, Suarez outperforms van Persie in almost every key indicator in league play this season, both from a defensive and attacking point of view.

Defensive Contribution Tackles Mins/Ground 50-50 Mins/Possession Won Interceptions
R. van Persie 18 13.15 33 9
L. Suarez 31 5.68 26 12

As a naturally hard-working forward, Suarez is aggressive in chasing down defenders and winning the ball back for his team, as well as him playing often in a deeper area of the pitch—necessitating more challenges to be made than van Persie when he is high up the pitch.

Even so, Suarez's contribution to winning back the ball is one of the best in the entire division, for forwards or defenders.

Attacking Contribution R. van Persie (19 goals) L. Suarez (18 goals)
Pass completion total rate 71 % 75 %
Attacking zone pass completion 66 % 73 %
Final third pass completion 74 % 73 %
Successful dribbles 24 76
Crossing accuracy 20 % 31 %
Goal assists from open play 4 4
Goal assists from set pieces 3 0
Total chances created 46 78
Clear-cut chances created 11 11
Total shots 79 112
Minutes per goal 114 129
Chance conversion 24 % 16 %
Clear-cut chance conversion 36 % 54 %

The results are in large part unsurprising; Suarez is renowned for attempting to dribble his way past multiple defenders, and this often contributes to him scoring goals or creating chances—which a few seconds beforehand didn't seem possible.

Both players have four open-play assists, with van Persie's penchant for taking dangerous, in-swinging corners almost doubling his assist tally for the entire season.

Suarez has had more shots this season than anybody else in the Premier League, and has improved his finishing rate considerably from last season. Even so, he lags a bit behind van Persie in the efficiency stakes—had the Dutchman taken the same number of attempts on goal that Suarez has, he would have 26 goals in total by now.

That Suarez takes more attempts says a lot about his willingness to get into good positions from deeper or wide areas, while many of van Persie's chances are set up for him after extended pressure in the opposition's penalty area.

One surprising statistic will be the clear-cut chance conversion rate.

Van Persie is widely seen as the superior finisher, and to an extent his chance conversion rate bears that out, but Suarez is streets ahead in this metric. Composure, angle and the quality (or luck) of the opposition goalkeeper all play a part, of course, but Suarez deserves credit for putting away more than one out of every two clear chances, while van Persie registers a goal from slightly more than a third of his own.

Comparisons can, and inevitably will, be drawn to suit the point of view of the reader, but one thing is worth bearing in mind in either case: While only one goal separates the two players, seven places and 29 points is the difference between the two clubs, Manchester United and Liverpool.

Empirical proof, were any still required, that football is very much a team game, and the notion of a "one-man team" is both pointless and misguided.

Statistical data from EPLindex.com


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