Luis Suárez has had a crazy season so far. After being asked to leave by Barcelona, he reportedly cheated on an Italian citizenship language exam, meaning that his move to Juventus fell through.
This paved the way for Atlético Madrid to snap him up for a negligible transfer fee for a player of his quality.
As far as perfect transfers go, there have not been too many better than this one. Both parties have benefited massively from this deal – the striker escaped the chaos and internal crisis at Barcelona, while Los Rojiblancos found a desperately-needed clinical finisher.
With his brace against Celta Vigo, Suárez became the first La Liga player in the 21st century to reach 16 goals in 17 games – a feat which neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi could achieve. Atlético are miles clear at the top of the La Liga table and should be considered favourites for the title.
We have already explored Atlético Madrid’s resurgence in a previous piece, so let us take a deeper dive into Suárez’s statistics now.
This dashboard comparing Suárez’s goal-relevant statistics from 2019/20 to those in the current season provide quite a few interesting deductions. So, let us go over each of the important stats, and see what they tell us.
Barcelona (2019/20) – 0.72
Atlético (2020/21) – 1.13
It is generally accepted that two goals every three games is a respectable tally for a top-tier striker, and Suárez’s was almost matching that last season. This season, though, he has taken it to another level altogether, with his 1.13 goals per 90 the highest in La Liga and third across Europe’s top-five leagues for players with a minimum of 12 appearances, with only Atalanta’s Luis Muriel and Robert Lewandowski outdoing the Uruguayan striker.
Muriel and Lewandowski are undoubtedly great finishers, but their tallies are certainly helped by their teams’ style of play. Atalanta take the second-most shots per game in Serie A, while Bayern have accumulated the highest xG in the Bundesliga. Atlético rank seventh and ninth respectively in these categories in La Liga, so something else is at play.
Barcelona (2019/20) – 0.63
Atlético (2020/21) – 0.62
Suárez’s xG at Atlético is one of his major eyeball-widening statistics. On paper, the quality of chances he is getting right now is about the same – negligibly worse, in truth – than the service he received at Barcelona. Yet, as we saw in his goals tally, he is taking them very differently now.
While factors such as trust, faith in the manager and confidence certainly play a part in a striker’s finishing, they cannot account for such a huge discrepancy. This is, of course, a very worrying statistics from Diego Simeone’s standpoint because, as Brighton and Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur recently taught us, the xG Gods always strike back.
Here is another statistic to add to Atlético’s worries.
Goals/Shots on Target
Barcelona (2019/20) – 38%
Atlético (2020/21) – 80%
The mean goals to shots on target ratio for La Liga forwards this season is 25%, which is a fair reflection for football in general. As you would expect from a world-class finisher, Suárez was significantly better than that last season, but he has gone absolutely ballistic this time out, with his 80% the best in Europe’s big five leagues combined for strikers who have attempted at least 20 shots.
Now, as good as Suárez is, there is no way any professional can keep effectively scoring four goals from five shots on target (even a penalty is only worth 0.76 xG, so penalty merchants cannot keep up with this either). Therefore, it is safe to conclude that no matter how well Suárez finishes his chances, this goalscoring form is simply not sustainable.
Barcelona (2019/20) – 54%
Atlético (2020/21) – 38%
While most of Suárez’s stats have dramatically increased at Atlético Madrid, one which has fallen is his shooting accuracy.
Last season at Barcelona, he averaged 3.51 shots per 90 and hit the target with about 54% (1.89) of them, but now, with the number of shots increasing to 3.62, his accuracy has dropped to approximately 38% (1.42 shots on target).
This means that while Suárez has been taking slightly more shots this season, the quality of his efforts has decreased, but, as we discussed previously, those that are of good quality are of insanely good quality (or luck – or both).
Barcelona (2019/20) – 3.33
Atlético (2020/21) – 2.2
The last statistic that we will be taking a look at does not have a direct effect on Suárez’s goalscoring, but it is certainly interesting.
According to Sports Reference, Shot-Creating Actions refer to the two offensive actions leading to a shot or goal. This includes live-ball passes, dead-ball passes, successful dribbles, shots which lead to another shot, and being fouled. Therefore, they can be used to measure a player’s creativity as well as the quality of chances that they receive.
The Uruguayan striker’s assists per 90 have dropped from 0.36 to 0.14, but this is understandable since now, unlike at Barcelona when he had Messi and numerous other stars by his side, he is the main man up front. Further, Atlético’s counter-attack-based style of play usually results in better chances in terms of quality (albeit fewer numerically), but these generally fall to the striker.
To conclude, the drop in Suárez’s assists per 90 can be explained fairly easily, while his extremely high goals to shots on target ratio might have something to do with the fact that a greater number of his shots are created through his teammates (which explains his drop in SCA) and he only has to worry about finishing.
Given the fact that Suárez was Barcelona’s second-highest earner (behind Messi, of course) with a weekly wage of over €330,000 and that Barcelona were in a proper financial mess, their decision to let him go does not seem so baseless.
However, his statistics this season including an already-equal goals tally from last season of 16 make Barcelona look like complete fools, which they admittedly are in many regards, but perhaps not in this one.
This is because the ex-Liverpool forward is converting his chances at an inconceivably high rate, and there is absolutely no way that he can keep this up for too much longer, as the element of luck has as much of a role to play as his world-class finishing does.
Thus, after an extensively look at some of Suárez’s numbers, it is safe to deduce that his goalscoring will drop at some point. But, the question which no one can answer is when exactly that will happen, because luck is not measured on an Excel sheet.