In a recent interview on Uruguayan television, Luis Suárez revealed the anguish he suffered after being accused of racially abusing Patrice Evra in October 2011:
“It was so hard what happened to me. I don’t show my emotions in the field, you know, but outside I do it I cried a lot with all the Evra stuff. The trial week was so complicated for me. My wife and I cried a lot during that week…I had to go to Manchester in a taxi for the trial. I got up at seven in the morning and I came home at nine at night. I was exhausted, I was so tired. I wanted to cry, and kick all the things around me”.
Reading that got me thinking about whether or not Suárez’ form was affected during the ten game spell between the fateful match with Manchester United, and the start of his ban. The figures suggest that the mental turmoil the Liverpool number seven was under did negatively affect his performance.
Strikers are inevitably judged mostly on their goalscoring record, and whilst Suárez was not hugely prolific in 2011/12 anyway, a return of one goal from ten games in this pre-ban period was a very poor return. Considering that, aside from matches with Chelsea and Manchester City, the fixtures in this spell were not the most daunting, this seems even more surprising:
In fairness to Suarez, he did score both goals in a Carling Cup win at Stoke City during this time, and perhaps more interestingly, four goals in one game for Uruguay, in a World Cup qualifier versus Chile. Did some time away from the media witch hunt in the UK enable him to relax, and therefore perform better?
The key element here for me is that up-to-and-including the match with United, Suárez had already scored four league goals in just eight appearances, at an amazing rate of one every fifty-nine minutes played; to give that some context, Robin van Persie scored a goal “only” every 111 minutes on his way to the Premier League golden boot last season. Granted, it’s a small sample, but Suárez’ early season form equates to a whopping fifty-seven league goals if he played every minute of every match.
Yet following the accusation from Evra and subsequent media storm, Suárez only scored a league goal every 331 minutes across the rest of the league campaign. Some of this will have been down to the poor form displayed by the Reds as a whole team in 2012, but it does seem that his fine form from the start to the season was knocked into touch by an accusation that, let’s not forget, was never proved.
Despite his poor form in front of goal after the tussle with the Red Devils, Suárez was actually shooting more regularly:
The issue was clearly his shooting accuracy; whilst the frequency of his shots on target actually improved slightly, he registered a massive 48% of his total shots off target (and five of his total eight woodwork strikes) for the season in the ten game pre-ban period. This can probably be explained by looking at the quality of chances he was attempting to score, via the clear-cut chance data:
Whilst it will be down to his team mates that he only had a clear-cut chance (CCC) around half as regularly in the pre-ban period as he did for the rest of the season, by only taking one of the six CCCs that came his way Suárez was well below par; Liverpool (including Suárez) converted 31% of their other CCCs across the season as a whole, as opposed to the Uruguayan’s 17% hit rate following the match with United.
So by combining the shot data with the clear-cut chance numbers, we can see that Suárez was shooting more regularly, but from a poorer quality of chance. In other words, it appears he was trying to be more involved, and perhaps shooting too early. Was he trying too hard to score goals in order to generate some positive headlines and prove his value to Liverpool?
The figures for passing certainly confirm that Senor Suárez was more involved overall during the ten games studied here too:
Unfortunately though, he was slightly blunter at the business end of the pitch as the final third passing accuracy illustrates. His more frequent involvement also meant that Suárez gave the ball away slightly more regularly too:
Whilst he wasn’t dispossessed quite as frequently, Suárez did overrun the ball nearly twice as often, and though it’s not listed above, he was also caught offside more regularly too (once every 43.7 minutes whilst Evra-gate hung over him, compared to every 60.1 minutes the rest of the time).
The figures paint a picture of a man trying to impose himself on the game as much as possible, by getting involved in the play more, yet by being in more of a hurry to pass and shoot, ultimately being less use to his team. It could be argued that the stress Suárez was under caused him to try too hard if anything, rather than shirking his responsibility and hiding from the limelight. Looking at the stats for ‘possession won’, it’s hard not to assume that Suárez was covering more ground across the pitch in order to be more involved as well:
Luis Suárez won possession in the final third of the pitch more times than any other player in the Premier League in 2011/12, yet during his pre-ban games he achieved this less often, whilst improving his numbers elsewhere upon the field. Surely he must have been covering more ground to be able to do this? If this is the case, he would have been more tired and hence this may explain why he was less sharp at the business end of the pitch.
Finally, a quick look at whether Suárez’ reputation did him any favours in the eyes of the refereeing community:
The figures suggest not; whilst the rate he won fouls was consistent, he gave away free kicks far more regularly. This may have been as a result of his wish to be involved in the play more of course, yet the numbers hint at referees taking a dim view of the would-be racist’s challenges upon opposition players.
Ultimately, the theories I have posited here are based upon some assumptions and guess work on my part. But the numbers indicate that whilst a racism charge hung over the head of Luis Suárez, he:
- Scored far less frequently;
- Shot more regularly, from fewer clear-cut (so poorer quality) opportunities, but with reduced accuracy;
- Touched the ball and passed more regularly, but gave the ball away more frequently as a result;
- Covered more of the pitch, which resulted in less of an edge in the attacking third;
- Received harsher treatment from referees.
Whilst we are unlikely to every really know what happened between Patrice Evra and Luis Suárez on the Anfield pitch on 15 October 2011, it is clear that Liverpool’s Uruguayan talisman was not the same player thereafter. A cynic may think that Manchester United orchestrated the whole issue precisely for this reason, and if so, it was mission accomplished on their part.
Whatever the truth, Brendan Rodgers will hope that a clean start for Suárez will mean that his star striker can return to his form from the beginning of last season, and steer clear of trouble in the process. If he can, then Suárez can aim for the upper reaches of the goal scoring chart whilst Liverpool can make an assault on the top four. Win win.