Luis Suarez could return for Liverpool for the first time since April when they take on old rivals Manchester United in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday night. Ahead of the match, Peter Fraser looks at whether the talented Uruguayan will actually improve his team
By Peter Fraser - Follow me on Twitter @SkySportsPeteF
Last Updated: 25/09/13 10:32am
Barcelona are widely considered to be the benchmark by which modern football clubs are judged. The philosophy, principles and performances are the standard to which many aspire.
They practice what they preach at Camp Nou. They have their faith in methods. Any football manager from the local park to the World Cup final will pedal the cliché about the team being more important than the individual. For Barcelona, though, that is reality. Look at the manner in which a £56.5million Zlatan Ibrahimovic was jettisoned after just one season because he did not fit Pep Guardiola's system.
Indeed, the contrast has been argued that the failure of Lionel Messi to reproduce his club brilliance with Argentina has been due to his international managers preferring to include surrounding star names rather than complementary players to the mercurial No.10. Messi may be Barcelona's most heralded asset but he still has to fit in with the team's structure.
That issue of selecting an iconic player into the team effective is the one now staring at Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. Having completed his 10-match ban for his shocking and controversial bite on Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic, Luis Suarez is again available for selection and could return in Wednesday's Capital One Cup third round match at old rivals Manchester United. But could the Uruguayan's return risk disrupting his club's impressive start to the season, which was only derailed in a first defeat by Southampton at the weekend?
Daniel Sturridge's form of 11 goals in all club competitions in Suarez's absence is the reason this has become a debate. The January 2013 signing from Chelsea has proved a huge success since moving to Liverpool and, particularly when Suarez has not been available, earning the chance to play as a main striker.
Not only that but Opta statistics demonstrated Liverpool were a more successful team without Suarez, albeit with a smaller sample size. Prior to the defeat by Southampton, they had a Premier League win percentage of 64.7% when playing in 17 matches without the former Ajax man compared to 39% in 77 games when he had featured. Their shot conversion rate (14.05% against 11.85%) and average points per game (2.1 against 1.5) were also better without Suarez.
|With Suarez||Liverpool in Premier League||Without Suarez|
|1.6||Avg. Goals For||1.7|
|1.1||Avg. Goals Against||0.9|
|11.85%||Shots Conversion Rate||14.05%|
|5633||Passes into Final 1/3||1190|
|69.90%||Passing Accuracy Final 1/3||70.40%|
|74.70%||Passing Accuracy Opp Half||76.60%|
Sturridge's goals record, which has seen him outscore fellow England squad members Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe, Danny Welbeck and Rickie Lambert in the Premier League in 2013, plus a superior individual shot conversion rate for Liverpool of 21.88% compared to Suarez's 12.85% also provides a case for the argument that Liverpool are better off without the latter.
Football, though, is obviously not played on a statistics board. Individuality cannot necessarily be quantified and Rodgers will want his most talented players, those who are capable of a moment of magic, on the field. The words of one of Rodgers' predecessors, former Liverpool boss Bill Shankly, a staunch champion of team work, epitomises that importance of a few star men: "A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing."
Likewise, though, that element of individual personality is another argument against the provocative Suarez. He will be guaranteed a hot reception at Old Trafford if he plays given the racism row with Patrice Evra which saw him banned for eight matches in 2011/12. He also spent this summer attempting to engineer a transfer away from Liverpool. His clash with Ivanovic was not the first time he had taken a bite out of an opponent on a football field. Can he be trusted?
Rodgers, though, will know Suarez is a class act with a football at his feet. His return will therefore mean Liverpool will have to make sacrifices. Sky Sports' Jamie Carragher, who played with Suarez and Sturridge under Rodgers at Liverpool last season, said as much on Monday Night Football last week: "Luis Suarez will have to play. He is a world-class player. It will be interesting to see whether he [Rodgers] puts Suarez or Sturridge in to a wide position. I think he tried that a bit last year and, for me, it did not work."
Rodgers' preferred 4-2-3-1 formation would be the reason why either Sturridge or Suarez would have to drop out wide and probably to the left of the attacking three behind a lone striker. Whether either man would be happy to do that is doubtful. Again, though, it is worth looking at the words of Shankly: "This is a team of skill and character, with men eager and ready to do any job if it is for the benefit of the club."
That shift in personnel could, however, have the negative influence of disrupting Liverpool's current stability. Philippe Coutinho, although he had not lived up to the sky-high pre-season hype, had been a key part of that balance. Before sustaining the shoulder injury at Swansea City, which has required surgery and has ruled him out for up to six weeks, Coutinho - to borrow Shankly's analogy - would probably join Suarez and Sturridge among Liverpool's three players who can play the piano.
The Brazilian looked far more comfortable in a central role against Swansea than in the wide left position in which either Suarez or Sturridge could find themselves operating. Carragher explained: "It is all about getting Philippe Coutinho in the middle and that is where you would expect Luis Suarez to play as well. But these are problems that Brendan Rodgers did not have last season - selection problems. These are problems that managers say they want. It is something for them to juggle but these are things he never had to contend with last season."
Coutinho being ruled out until the end of October consequently eases Rodgers' selection headache in the short-term and could even give him an excuse to be bold and play a 4-4-2 formation, which does risk being outnumbered in midfield.
But when Coutinho, another of Rodgers' excellent January 2013 signings, returns to fitness, there will be decisions to be made. The passing combinations between Coutinho and Sturridge demonstrate they relish playing with each other and this was evident in games such as the hammering of Newcastle United last season.
Coutinho has played 60 passes to Sturridge in their time together at Liverpool, while the reverse direction stands at a total of 49. In comparison, Coutinho has played 40 passes to Suarez and received just 25 in return.
Rodgers will need to decide in the long-term how this will impact upon his squad and how he can integrate his best players into a strongest formation. Should he follow the Barcelona model? The statistics all suggest Liverpool operate better as a team without Suarez.