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How Purple Is Luis Suárez's Purple Patch?

Dec 22 2013, 1:21pm CST | by

 
 
 

During his career Luis Suárez has never been far from the headlines and not all of them good. It seems that there have been times when he has featured in the newspapers more than the crossword puzzle. He started young head-butting a referee in his native Uruguay when he was only 15.

His first European club was Groningen in the Netherlands and when the club turned down a bid from Ajax, Suárez unsuccessfully appealed to the KNVB (Dutch Football Association) in an attempt to force a deal through. Subsequently an increased offer from Ajax proved to be a more effective method of securing the move.

There were reports of a bust-up with a team mate at Ajax and then in 2010 he bit an opponent during a match. That led to a fine, a seven game suspension and a public apology from the Uruguayan.  Before the 2010 chomping incident Suárez had also been sent off on his debut for Uruguay and again a few years later at the 2010 World Cup Finals. At South Africa 2010 Suárez infamously punched a goal bound header from a Ghanaian player off the line with literally only seconds remaining in a quarter-final match.

If the header had gone in Ghana would have certainly qualified for the semi-final – the first country from Africa to get that far. But rather, Ghana missed the penalty kick and Uruguay went on to win a penalty kick decider. Suárez was suspended and missed the semi against the Netherlands but many remember him celebrating Ghana’s penalty miss.

Liverpool paid Ajax around $35M in January 2011 to take him to Anfield and there has not been a quiet moment since. Suárez was accused of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during a match on October 2011 and was fined over $70,000 and suspended for eight games. When the two teams met again the following February Suárez refused to shake hands with Evra even though he had given assurances to Liverpool management that he would.

Another biting incident happened in April of this year – this time it was Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic who provided the convenient snack. Another fine and a ten game suspension this time which overlapped last and this season.

During the summer Suárez agitated for a move from Anfield and Arsenal submitted a bid of around $65M. Liverpool rejected Arsenal’s approach and simply reminded Suarez that he had a valid contract until 2016 and they expected him to honor it.

But this past week Liverpool tore up that contract and instead they made Suárez Liverpool’s highest paid player with an end date of 2018.

The reason is simple. This season Luis Suárez has not so much caught lightning in a bottle but downloaded an entire power generating station.

On Saturday, Suárez scored league goals number 18 and 19 in only his 12th match of the new season and it took Liverpool to the top of the league. Suárez scored goals in the Dutch League but historically that has not been a guarantee of future success in a more competitive league such as the Barclays Premier League. And even then, he never scored at his current rate over an entire season.

In his first “half-season” with Liverpool Suárez scored 4 goals in 13 appearances; in 2012/13 it was 11 goals in 31; last season 23 in 33 games.

Arsenal’s attempt last summer to recruit Suárez proved to be the genesis for countless articles detailing the player’s shortcomings and on occasion his strengths. There was far more reasons given for why Arsenal should not spend the money/Liverpool should take the money and run rather than why Liverpool should pull out all the stops to keep the controversial Uruguayan or why Arsenal should up their bid.

The prevailing view was that although Suárez scored goals he was  inefficient and compared to more elite company i.e. Messi, Lewandowski, Van Persie he was clearly a level (or maybe two) below that group. His goal numbers were generated by taking lots of shots rather than an efficient conversion of goal scoring chances. To use an analogy, he won the lottery because he bought an awful lot of tickets.

Then critics would point to his propensity to give up possession too frequently, a habit often exacerbated by dribbling too much. Suárez disrupted the flowing passing style that Liverpool Brendan Rodgers was working to instill with Liverpool they said – although interestingly Rodgers never seemed to have a problem.

But all the conventional wisdom has been undermined by his early season streak. There again, the most fervent Suárez fans could have anticipated the stratospheric level he has reached this season.

Suárez

2013/14

Goals Scored

Shots

Team

On Target

Off Target

Blocked

Total

Sunderland

2

2

3

2

7

Crystal Palace

1

2

0

0

2

Newcastle

0

3

2

1

6

West Brom

3

5

3

0

8

Arsenal

0

0

3

1

4

Fulham

2

3

5

2

10

Everton

1

3

0

1

4

Hull

0

2

2

1

5

Norwich

4

6

1

0

7

West Ham

2

5

2

2

9

Spurs

2

6

0

1

7

Cardiff

2

3

4

2

9

TOTALS

19

40

25

13

78

Per Game

1.58

3.33

2.08

1.08

6.50

Conversion rate

24.36%



*Conversion rate goals scored/total shots attempted

Compare this to his goal scoring record in 2012/13

Suárez

2012/13

Goals Scored

Shots

Team

On Target 

Off Target 

Blocked

Total

West Brom

0

2

5

1

8

Manchester City

1

1

3

1

5

Arsenal

0

1

3

0

4

Sunderland

1

1

3

2

6

Manchester Utd.

0

3

3

1

7

Norwich

3

3

2

1

6

Stoke

0

0

2

2

4

Reading

0

1

6

3

10

Everton

1

1

4

1

6

Newcastle

1

3

4

0

7

Chelsea

1

2

0

0

2

Wigan

2

2

3

2

7

Swansea

0

2

1

2

5

Spurs

0

3

1

3

7

Southampton

0

1

2

2

5

Aston Villa

0

2

1

4

7

Fulham

1

4

2

0

6

Stoke

0

1

3

3

7

QPR

2

4

1

2

7

Sunderland

2

5

0

2

7

Manchester Utd.

0

1

1

1

3

Norwich

1

2

0

1

3

Arsenal

1

2

2

0

4

Manchester City

0

1

3

2

6

West Brom

0

0

3

4

7

Swansea

1

2

3

1

6

Wigan

3

3

1

0

4

Spurs

1

1

0

1

2

Southampton

0

1

0

1

2

Aston Villa

0

4

3

2

9

West Ham

0

2

3

0

5

Reading

0

5

2

0

7

Chelsea

1

5

1

0

6

TOTALS

23

71

71

45

187

Per Game

0.70

2.15

2.15

1.36

5.67

Conversion rate

12.30%

Here is a comparison table of last season to this, so far.

Goals Scored

Shots

Per Game

On Target

Off Target

Blocked

Total

Per Goal

2012/13

0.70

2.15

2.15

1.36

5.67

8.13

2013/14

1.58

3.33

2.08

1.08

6.50

4.11

% Change

127%

55%

-3%

-21%

15%

-50%

Rather than shooting less, Suárez is getting more shots away than ever, 15% more. Of these shots fewer are being blocked (-21%), fewer are missing the target (-3%) and obviously many more are hitting the target (+55%) and finding the back of the opposition’s net (-50% represents half as many attempted shots being needed to score a goal this season).

From last season to this, Suárez has more doubled his goals per game rate (+127%) and doubled his conversion (to 24.3%)  but there is still more. Go back to his first full season at Anfield in 2011/12 his conversion rate was a smidgen below 8% which in turn was pretty close to his inaugural “half-season.”

So what we have is a player who increased his goal scoring efficiency by 50% from 2011/12 to 2012/13 and then so far this season he has almost doubled his rate again. Or, to look at it another way Suarez is three times as efficient this season for Liverpool as he was two seasons ago.

That is remarkable but it is compounded by the fact that he will be 27 next month. Goals scorers tend to rely on their sharpness and because of that there is a tendency (yes there are a couple of exceptions) for the very good ones to explode on the scene in their late teens and early 20s.

It is almost inconceivable to think that Suárez can maintain his performances and scoring rate but even if he dropped off to last season’s scoring rate (and did not miss games) he would be on track to match the most goals scored in a Premier League season. The record of 34 is jointly held by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole. But Shearer appeared in 42 games while Cole in two fewer. The maximum number Suarez can reach is 33 games.

There is, of course, the issue of 12 games being a small sample and that some sort of regression will kick in. Nonetheless, until that happens we can all sit back and enjoy one of the greatest displays of finishing we are ever likely to see in the Barclays Premier League.

Coming Up

As of the evening of December 22, 2013 Liverpool sit top of the Premier League  and they will remain so through till at least Boxing Day unless Arsenal beats Chelsea on Monday or Chelsea beat Arsenal by the close to impossible margin of 10 goals.

Liverpool then faces two very tough matches. On Boxing Day they travel the short distance to Manchester to play City – currently only a point behind Liverpool and in rampant form at home this season.

Then there is another away match on December 29. This time it will at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea – another team with title ambitions.

Over the next two games there are two particular things worth looking out for:

1. If Brendan Rodgers decides to stick with Sakho and Skrtel at centre back how will they deal with the pressure that both City and Chelsea must surely apply? With a soccer ball at their feet both players look as comfortable as a naked man sitting on a large cactus.

2. Can Liverpool find a way to produce consistently over a full 90 minute match? It may seem curmudgeonly to point this out but Liverpool do tend to fade in the second half. Over the first 17 games Liverpool has won the first half 13 times, drawn 3 and lost just 1 – that time it was to Arsenal. Liverpool has also scored 28 first half goals and allowed only 5.

Compare such an intimidating record to what has happened in the second half – won 5, drawn 5 and lost 7. Liverpool has scored 14 and allowed the same number.

*Raw stats provided by FourFourTwo Stats Zone – a truly indispensable source of information.

 

Source: Forbes

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