If the last two weeks hadn’t made it clear enough already, tonight’s goalless draw at Lyon should finally be the end of Luis Suarez being being guaranteed to play 90 minutes in every match. Suarez entered the match in dreadful form through a hectic fixture period in early February. Despite that, there was hope that the nine day break since his last start would provoke a return to form.
However, those hopes faded quite quickly after kickoff. Virtually every time Suarez touched the ball, it either ruined or slowed down a Barcelona attack. Some of his attempts at dribbling, turning, or controlling a pass were literally painful to watch. In front of goal, Suarez’s finishing and final pass were of a similarly low standard despite the plethora of chances that Barcelona created. His failure to score today now makes it four years since his last away goal in the Champions League.
Ernesto Valverde’s decision to keep Suarez on for all 90 minutes was also quite puzzling and frustrating for supporters. It wasn’t as if Suarez’s struggles were difficult to notice either. Even when he brought Philippe Coutinho on, it inexplicably came in place of Ousmane Dembele, who had been Barcelona’s biggest threat by far after Messi. It was yet another cautious and safety-first decision from a coach increasingly becoming known for them.
Figuring out how to replace Suarez in the starting eleven may be difficult considering Barca will not have a direct replacement until at least the summer transfer window. The best and probably only alternative until then will be returning Messi to his false 9 role through the middle. Putting Messi there would also end the tactical issue of having him starting on the right wing but constantly drifting inside. As seen again against Lyon today, that forces all of the team’s attacks down the left wing and also disrupts the balance in midfield by forcing one of the three over to cover the right flank defensively.
During his time in charge so far, Valverde has been reluctant to take on any of the senior players in the squad. That has helped him win their support, which reportedly played a big role in him getting that contract extension last week. However, for Barcelona to progress much further in the Champions League, it may require him to set that precedent aside and begin leaving Luis Suarez out of the Barcelona team in key matches