Luis Suárez is one of the best strikers in Barcelona’s history, but he’s on a clear decline now.
Suárez signed for the Blaugrana from Liverpool for £65m back in the summer of 2014 (back when £65m was a lot of money) and in the interim has won everything available to him. Suárez has a frankly absurd 168 goals in just 231 games for Barça, has won everything there is, and in 2015/16 was statistically the best-performing forward in the world. He has well and truly lived his dream.
But now, as he is about to turn 32, inexorable physical decline has set in. Suárez is still capable of brilliant, exhilarating performances, but cannot raise his game to perform on a consistent basis as Barcelona’s starting striker must do and worse, is prone to long bouts of looking about as useful as sledgehammer made of Cornflakes.
Suárez is currently on a run of five games without a goal, including big cup ties against Real Madrid and Lyon. And stretching back he has scored just twice in his last 10. Worse still, he hasn’t scored a Champions League goal away from the Camp Nou in over 1,250 days. A run that stretches back to September 2015 and covers more than 24 hours of match time, that’s right, an entire day!
Suárez’s nonsense has a direct impact on Barcelona’s ability to threaten opponents and win games, because after all if your no. 9 is flapping around like Magikarp then no matter how well your other players perform, it’s going to be difficult for you as a side to consistently score goals. And when you don’t score goals, bad things happen. Like failing to score against a Lyon side that shipped 11 in the group stages.
It’s clear that Barcelona need to replace Suárez. And not with players like Kevin-Prince Boateng, but a genuine heir. A player of supreme skill and quality that can provide the cutting edge in the final third that Barça badly need. Who is that? We’ve had a look and come up with some different options for the Blaugrana’s next no. 9.
Dream: Kylian Mbappé or Harry Kane
When you dream: dream big. Barcelona need to replace a player who was, for three years, the best striker on planet earth. Well the best solution for that is to sign a player who is either now the best striker on planet earth, or will inherit that role in due course.
Kylian Mbappé isn’t quite the world’s best striker but he’s not far off, which is a terrifying prospect when you consider that he only turned 20 two months ago. Mbappé is a miraculous forward blessed with terrifying pace, supreme skill and a deadly eye for goal. One could see him seamlessly slotting into a fluid front three with Leo Messi and compatriot Ousmane Dembélé. That would be a truly terrifying trio.
Harry Kane is the best thing around right now. He’s not quite as electrifying as Mbappé, nor is he has cool as the Frenchman. In fact he’s a bit of a dork, although that would only make his adaptation to life in Barcelona all the smoother. But anyway, on the field he’s a lethal striker whose movement and anticipation is so good that it doesn’t matter if he’s not fast. He can sniff out weakness and chances like nobody’s business and he has a love of big games and an ability to rack up goals in colossal numbers. A true talisman.
Squawka Suggests: Kylian Mbappé
Whilst Kane would be an obvious swap for Suárez, it would be kind of more of the same. Barcelona signing the world’s best no. 9 as he’s firmly in his prime (Kane would be 26 when joining Barça whilst Suárez was 27). This means you get a good 5-7 years out of the player before physical decline sets in and you have to do the whole thing all over again.
Mbappé, meanwhile, is just 20. He’d give Barça at least a decade of dominance in attack and would give the Blaugrana attack even more frightening speed. Imagine Mbappé and Dembélé running ahead of Messi to provide him passing options? That could be devastating! Any space you gave the Catalans would be ruthlessly exploited by these two speed demons.
Of course both of these players are firmly established at their respective clubs and it’s unlikely Barcelona could ever convince either PSG or Spurs to sell. But that’s why it’s the dream!
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Realistic: Luka Jovic or Maxi Gomez
Even Barcelona have to be realistic sometimes. And with so much money committed to Frenkie de Jong (and with Matthijs de Ligt still an possible target in the summer) the Blaugrana could use some smarter options for their striker problem.
Luka Jovic is on his second season at Eintracht Frankfurt and he’s doing superbly well so far. He’s the top scorer in the Bundesliga right now despite being just 21-years-old and playing for a mid-table side. When it comes to finding someone with as varied and balanced a skill-set as Suárez but also possessing a keen goalscoring ability (sorry Richarlison), Jovic is the man.
But Jovic is from Serbia and plays in Germany, there’s no guarantee that he’d settle in Spain. So why not look at Maxi Gomez? The Uruguayan has been a huge success at struggling Celta Vigo in La Liga. He’s a burly striker who resembles Suárez in a physical capacity and although he lacks his compatriot’s flair, he’s a reliable goal-getter.
Squawka Suggests: Luka Jovic
As much as Maxi Gomez knows the language and culture of La Liga, and as much as he has a set buyout clause of €50m, he’s very much an orthodox striker. A big powerful man who can hold the ball up, run in behind, link with team-mates and score. Jovic, meanwhile, has an unpredictable and unorthodox air about him.
Not only is Jovic a better dribbler than Maxi, but he’s incredibly two-footed and fond of early shots. He’s also younger, links very well with team-mates and is fond of unorthodox finishes, with lots of strange shots and volleys amongst his tally for this season. Watch him whilst squinting and you’ll find he reminds you quite a lot of Luis Suárez; it’s clear how he’d slot seamlessly into the attack.
Given the stylistic match with Suárez, the promising age (he’d provide at least a decade of service, barring injury) and the fact that Frankfurt won’t make the Europa League this season so he won’t cost all that much compared to other options; it’s clear why Jovic is the smart, sensible and overall realistic option.
Wildcard: Neymar or Krzysztof Piatek
Barcelona’s recent history is marked by the world-record departure of Neymar to PSG. It changed so much in football, coming out of the blue as it did and negatively effecting a powerhouse like Barcelona. Still, since then Neymar hasn’t exactly taken off in Paris there have been persistent rumours that he wants to come back to the Camp Nou.
So why not make it happen? He’s not a no. 9, sure, but Barcelona could play 4-3-3 false nine. Or hell, put Neymar on the left and stick Ousmane Dembélé into a fluid central striking role and see how his close control and superb two-footed finish would hurt opponents. Moreover, Neymar is the second best player in the world and when Messi does fall off it will be on Neyar to be the man.
Meanwhile Krzysztof Piatek is having one hell of a season smashing in goal after goal after goal. Milan signed him in January and he’s started his life at San Siro in such good form people are already expecting the Rossoneri to capitalise in the summer.
Squawka Suggests: Krzysztof Piatek
Firstly: Neymar would cost Barcelona more than what they sold him to PSG for, and he is now older and somehow worse (or at the very least, no better). That is an absurd financial outlay at any time, much less when they need other reinforcements brought in. Secondly: vast swathes of Barcelona fans are still mad at Neymar. Thirdly: Neymar’s not even a no. 9.
So it has to be Piatek. He doesn’t do much other than score, but with Messi and Dembélé around that could be enough. It could happen, but given Piatek just joined Milan his transfer fee would be enormous – now, Barça can “do” enormous, but given they have other needs it would be strange for them to bank so much on such a one-dimensional player. A wildcard move, if you will.