He might have only hit the back of the net four times in twelve Premier League appearances this season, but Liverpool’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suárez is rapidly becoming one the league’s most dangerous forwards and world’s best players. Key to this is his versatility and ability to adapt to different roles.
Against Chelsea Liverpool lined up in a 4-4-2 with Craig Bellamy partnering Suárez in an attempt to counter Chelsea’s high defensive line with the pair’s pace. The first goal may have come through excellent pressing from Charlie Adam, however a number of chances were created with quick balls to the two pacey forwards – particularly in the opening half hour. Suárez’s role was to play off the shoulder of the Chelsea’s central defensive pair of John Terry and David Luiz and use his pace and the space to create scoring opportunities.
This is in stark contrast to the role he was given against Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday night. Suárez was the lone striker in what can probably be best described as a 4-1-4-1 formation. Whilst Adam and Henderson made the occasional surge forward into the area between them and Suárez, there was (particularly in the first forty-five minutes) a lot of space between the midfield pair and the Uruguayan. Suárez was more than capable when dropping into this space and linking the midfield and attack.
In the game against City, Suárez received a lot more passes in the centre of pitch, where as in the match at Stamford Bridge he received more passes on the wings and closer to the penalty box. The passes against Chelsea were generally much longer – highlighting the emphasis on quickly moving the ball forward to Suárez who was playing off the shoulder of the defenders. The shorter, more central passes in the match versus City demonstrate the emphasis on retaining possession and dropping into space between the City defenders and where Henderson and Adam were stationed.
The passes that Suárez made in the two games also differ greatly. Against City more passes were made square and backwards. This is compared to the Chelsea game where passes were more likely to go forwards. This again shows the different approaches taken by the side and the role that Suárez was asked to perform.
His much lower passing success rate in the match versus Chelsea is indicative of the fast, counter-attacking approach taken.
Despite the different requests of Kenny Dalglish and his assistant Steve Clarke, Luis Suárez performed well in both games. He might not have got on the score sheet in either fixture but he was an important member of the starting side and fulfilled his role well. Despite the different approaches he managed to create two chances in each match and have three attempts on goal himself.
As well as being asked to perform different duties in the attacking phases of the games, Suárez was able to adapt to different defensive strategies as well. Against Chelsea, Liverpool’s most attacking three (Suarez, Kuyt and Bellamy) were required to press to create quick turnovers and make the most of the space that presented.
Against City however, Liverpool needed to shut down space in the final third to deny players such as David Silva and Samir Nasri the room to play dangerous balls into the penalty area. The image below shows how against Chelsea, Suárez made three successful tackles from six attempts whilst he did not attempt a single tackle against City at Anfield.
He might not have been as prolific in front of goal compared to rivals Robin van Persie and Edin Džeko, but his versatility and ability to adapt to different instructions has kept £35m Andy Carroll on the bench despite offering something very different himself.
Lucas might be growing into Liverpool’s most integral player and Daniel Agger’s return from injury has meant the back four has looked its best in a long time, but Suárez’s versatility is key to Liverpool and their Top Four ambitions this season.