Ernesto Valverde Praise for Luis Suarez Despite Year-Long UCL Goal Drought

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistMarch 14, 2019

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 13: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's third goal with his teammate Luis Suarez during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between FC Barcelona and Olympique Lyonnais at Nou Camp on March 13, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has defended Luis Suarez after his striker failed to net in Wednesday's 5-1 win over Lyon to mark almost one year without scoring in the UEFA Champions League. 

Suarez went a 343rd day without getting on the scoresheet in Europe as Barca advanced to the quarter-finals for a 12th season in succession, but Valverde praised his frontman for bringing more to the team.

He told reporters: "Tomorrow, people will reel off the statistic about him not having scored but that does not take into account the way he played. He doesn't take the penalty that he wins and he passes to Coutinho for the goal. His contribution is always huge."

Suarez, 32, drew the challenge to win Barca's penalty despite replays showing it was him who had fouled Lyon's Jason Denayer. His assist to Philippe Coutinho for their second was more legitimate, via BT Sport (UK only) and B/R Live (U.S. only):

Bleacher Report Live @brlive

A day after Cristiano Ronaldo's dramatic hat trick, Lionel Messi tallied 2 goals and 2 assists to lead Barcelona to the #UCL quarterfinals 🤩 Watch every big moment from Wednesday with the Champions League Highlight Show on #BRLive: https://t.co/f5E25hfsd8 https://t.co/FVstpl7xXo

The senior forward is convinced his drought in Europe will end in good time and told Movistar Plus (h/t Marca): "Strikers live with goals, but I'm excited that we're through. I want the team to keep going and for me to score. It'll come. I keep my head up and keep trying my luck."

Suarez also explained the Denayer incident and said he "accidentally stepped on him," leaving the responsibility of whether or not to award a penalty solely with the referee.

The Uruguayan has been at the centre of increased discussion this season, with some suggesting he could be past his prime and will soon need replacing at the Camp Nou.

Messi converted the penalty and added a second for Barca to make it 3-1, via B/R Live (U.S. only):

Bleacher Report Live @brlive

Make 'em move like Messi 🕺🕺 https://t.co/KY88kAokqo

Valverde wasn't the only one who appreciated his No. 9 for more than just his direct goal threat on Wednesday:

John Bennett @JohnBennettBBC

5-1 to Barca tonight and along with Juve and Man City I have them down as favourites... Messi magic as always... Suarez back in form. But am I alone in thinking there is something missing from that team? They're not 100% convincing.

Juan G. Arango 🇨🇴 🇮🇹 @JuanG_Arango

BTW Messi will get all the plaudits... but Suarez did some quiet dirty work. sensational by him.

Suarez has scored 20 goals and recorded 10 assists this season. The player scored a career-high tally of 59 goals across all competitions during his second season at the Camp Nou (2015-16) but has seen his count steadily fall since then.

Barcelona needed a confident performance in Catalonia after drawing 0-0 away from home in the first leg, and Suarez provided two key moments to get their noses in front on Wednesday.

Valverde highlighted his unselfish assist for Coutinho in particular as evidence of why he's so essential, and Squawka pointed to his other big contributions early on:

Squawka Football @Squawka

Luis Suárez for Barcelona in the first-half vs. Lyon: • Most take-ons completed (3) • Most chances created (3) • Most fouls won (3) He's come alive. 💪 https://t.co/sVzl5HMc2s

A successful dummy against Lyon's Brazilian defender Marcelo also showed he isn't lacking in creativity, via BT Sport (UK only):

Football on BT Sport @btsportfootball

Luis Suarez with no regard for Marcelo's dignity 🔥 https://t.co/FfhiKzTKPs

The draw for this season's Champions League quarter-finals will take place on Friday in Nyon, Switzerland.