Suarez back to his best as Messi’s injury leaves Barcelona needing new leader

first_imgIt’s not often that the Camp Nou has something more important to look at than the football unfolding in front of them, but that’s exactly what happened on Saturday night against Sevilla, as all eyes were focused on the touchline.There, Lionel Messi lay in anguish as the club’s medical team tended to his right arm. The number 10 fell awkwardly early into the first half of Barcelona’s top of the table encounter, and from the writhing nature of his reaction – not common from the Argentinean, who likes to get up, dust himself off and get on with it – it was clear that there was cause for concern.The substitution finally came with 22 minutes on the clock.Messi had only played 16 of them. Still, it was time enough for him to assist the opener, score the second, and provoke perhaps the most efficiently earned standing ovation from the Camp Nou ever when he was finally withdrawn. Suarez finally got the goal he deserved, making it 3-0 just after the hour mark tense How Everton could look in January under Ancelotti with new signings Satisfied with an excellent all-round showing from the veteran – and no doubt aware that he needs to keep the key player sharp ahead of two huge games – coach Ernesto Valverde withdrew Suárez to a standing ovation in the 80th minute, his job well done.“Suárez proved you shouldn’t doubt him,” Catalunya Radio commentator Ricard Torquemada judged. “The only person with the personality to step up with Messi gone is Suárez,” his colleague Jordi Borda concluded.Personality is certainly not something the attacker lacks. But the way Suárez rolled back the years and showed an effectiveness on Saturday that has been absent for some time gives Barça a much more tangible reason for optimism as they enter a key period without their talisman. Barcelona saw out the victory and went top of La Liga, but Messi’s expected three week absence is a significant cause for concern in a huge week for the Catalans. On Wednesday they host Internazionale in a key Champions League clash, while next Sunday it’s time for the main event – El Clásico against a wounded Real Madrid with a coach likely fighting for his job.Losing Messi at such a big moment is always a worry, but with the Argentinean often being the only difference between a mediocre and passable Barça for some time now, it feels particularly significant. Long gone are the days of the MSN frontline with three players hitting world class figures in front of goal – his 12 strikes this season are more than double the figure registered by the next-best performing goalscorers in the squad.There is a vacuum to be filled – not only in terms of numbers but also presence.However, the answer to who is capable of stepping up may just have turned up on Saturday.With perfect timing, Luis Suárez produced his best performance for Barça in a long time – showing the balance of goal threat, relentless effort and creative spark that he married so well at his peak but has been missing of late. 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Not going on international duty during the most-recent break appears to have done him some good after a long summer involving taxing World Cup duty.His fast-thinking to move the ball quickly in the area contributed to the move that created Barcelona’s opener, while a brilliant, cutting ball with his back to goal assisted Messi for the second. Again, the pass was sharp, leaving Sevilla with no time to think after losing the ball in midfield.Encouragingly for the La Liga leaders, with Messi off the pitch the number nine’s influence only grew further.Another sublime ball just before the break – this time hit on the bounce over the top of the Sevilla defence – freed Ousmane Dembelé, and the Frenchman should have done far better with what he was served.For a long period, the striker was everywhere, dropping back to link up with Dembelé or Philippe Coutinho, urging moves on with forward-thinking link-up play, then surging into the area to try and get on the end of a return ball. The only thing he lacked was a goal – particularly important to a centre-forward who had only managed three in his first eight league games.That goal eventually arrived just after the hour mark, when yet another smart run got the better of Sevilla’s backline as well as keeper Tomáš Vaclík, who could only bring the forward down and concede a penalty. The spot-kick was taken with authority befitting the rest of his performance, and the Camp Nou duly rewarded their surrogate leader with chants of “Uruguayan, Uruguayan”. Green reveals how he confronted Sarri after Chelsea’s 6-0 defeat at Man City The average first-team salaries at every Premier League club in 2019 scrap last_img read more