01 November 2013

Why I'd still rather defend against Suarez than depend on him...

So here we are again about to face a striker we almost signed in the summer, and hands are wringing over the form he's in. I speak, of course, of Luis Suarez, scorer of six league goals in four appearances, a rate that would have him score 57 times in a season. That might be just enough to pencil him in as a Golden Boot candidate—except for the fact that he's already missed five league
matches (and one League Cup match), and he's all but certain to miss more. More pertinently, he's feasted on some rather feeble defenses while all but disappearing in the only match of note in which he's appeared, a 1-0 loss to Man U in the League Cup's third round. Therefore, while all of the talk centers around his "fantastic" return, and of his partnering with Daniel Sturridge, a peek under the hood suggests that he's still more style than substance, and as such, we shouldn't lament missing out on his signing even if he does net against us on Saturday.

First, the League Cup match. Yes, it was "only" the League Cup. However, it was his first appearance since biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic in April of last season. He surely circled this date on his calendar as one on which he could signal his return in style. However, he fizzled, taking eight shots, putting only one on target, and failing to score. Before you cluck your tongue and say, "well, yes, but what kind of lineup did Liverpool send out to support him?", I'll point out that it looks to be much the same lineup as the one we'll face on Saturday. On top of that, Liverpool had previously beaten Man U without Suarez, a point I'll return to in a minute. Long story short: he failed to deliver in a match that mattered. It was his return from an infamous ban, it was against a high-profile opponent, and it was a chance to help his team advance in the League Cup. He had to know that it would be vital for him to shine, and on all counts, he failed.

To take a broader view, his statistics are admittedly gaudy. He's needed only 23 shots to net six goals in four appearances for a conversion rate of 26%. However, he's done so against Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Newcastle, and West Brom, a slate of teams that sport a collective -33 goal-differential. He's yet to prove that he can deliver against a team that can actually defend. Even against Man U ("only five teams have conceded more goals than us"), he's failed to find the net. He's a chucker. He keeps shooting and shooting until, eventually, something goes in. Unless it doesn't.

I mentioned a return to the two Liverpool-Man U matches. In the first, a 1-0 win for Liverpool, five players combined for nine shots, an intriguing show of democracy (not that democracy is crucial for winning). In the second, a 0-1 loss for Liverpool, five players combined for 17 shots—but eight of those were taken by Suarez. To contrast the two matches, which is about as direct a comparison as we can get given the sample-size, we have on one hand a 1-0 win from nine shots taken and a 0-1 loss from seventeen shots taken. The variable between the two is Suarez's eight shots. I won't claim  that there's a direct, causal relationship there, but it's intriguing. While he's racked up that glitzy 26% conversion rate, it's only a matter of time before he reverts to the mean, a career-conversion rate of somewhere in the 12% range. For perspective, this is a conversion rate for which we lambasted Giroud last year, yet he cost a fraction—perhaps 1/4th—of what Suarez might've cost.

With all of this in mind, it's still possible that Suarez will do some damage on Saturday. He's volatile. This cuts in two ways. On one hand, he could go for a second hat-trick in as many games. On the other, he could implode, racistly abusing or biting someone on his way to yet another ban of ten games or more. I just can't tolerate these mood-swings; I'd much prefer someone who delivers on a more-consistent basis, without the diving, the racism, the biting, and all the rest. Is that too much to ask?

Last but not least, the drum-beat continues. I'm proud to say that I'm one of six finalists in the Football Blogging Awards' "Best New Blogs" category. I'm up against some heavy-hitting, broad-spectrum sites that cover a little of everything, so I hope Gooners will cast their ballots in one (or more) of the following ways:
Thanks, as always for your visit. 'Til tomorrow..