If you haven’t noticed it because you’ve been transfixed by Neymar doing his best Ronaldinho impersonation, Luis Suarez has been on a tear this year. He’s currently tied for second in La Liga in scoring with eight goals, with only Neymar (oh hey!) ahead of him with nine. But a lot of the things that Neymar is doing are only possible because of Suarez, the world’s best decoy.
Barca fans imagined the worst when Leo Messi went down a month ago with a knee injury. The rest of the world thought they’d be fine with Neymar and Suarez, but culers thought Barcelona was doomed. (We always think Barcelona is doomed.) Having the best player in the world go down with a two month injury on an already thin as bones squad will cause even the most optimistic fan to shout crisis, but with two of the trident in the fold, Barcelona have been doing fine.
Barcelona have played 8 games, winning 6, drawing one, and losing to Sevilla without their Argentinian talisman. Since Messi went down, Barcelona have scored 14 times. Neymar has seven, while Luis Suarez also has 7. The rest of the team has had none.
That’s basically the formula Luis Enrique has utilized without his best player: just let the other two do their thing and get out the way.
And while Neymar has gotten all the plaudits for his performance – rightfully so, I might add – it is the understated brilliance of Barcelona’s number 9 that has allowed the Brazilian to thrive.
In many ways, Barcelona’s striker is an update of Real Madrid’s striker, Karim Benzema (without the sex tape blackmail bit). And in all of the ways that Real Madrid’s offense stutters when Benz is injured, so too does Barcelona’s. I’ve pointed this out before, but one of the best things Luis Enrique has done last season is not try to pigeonhole Suarez. He lets Luis do what he wants, and what Luis does better than most footballers is attract defenders’ attention. As long as Suarez is occupying center backs and making runs, Neymar can be devastating. If Suarez wants to direct the other forward and tell him where to go (as he did when he scored the 5th goal against Rayo Vallecano a few weeks ago), well then that’s just icing on the cake.
This is not the Luis Suarez of Liverpool. Even with Messi out of action, Luis hasn’t minded taking a back seat to Neymar and helping the Brazilian develop. Sid Lowe wrote about this in the Guardian, about how both players have stepped their game up in Messi’s absence:
“….this is a different Neymar now. He has taken on responsibility to lead the side creatively: it is not just the talent that is often mind-blowing, it is the willingness to go at people, the determination to lead, the nerve.”
The star of this show is most definitely Neymar, but its a dynamic that Suarez is more than comfortable with. “We know our roles: I don’t dribble round three or four players like Ney does,” said the Uruguayan.
And if folks are too busy watching Neymar do his thing, too busy worrying about when Messi is coming back, then they are missing perhaps one of the best displays of understated brilliance in a long time.