Suarez needs no time to adjust at Liverpool

By Paul Gardner

Liverpool, having said goodbye to Fernando Torres -- whose performances of late had been half-hearted, to put it mildly -- this week welcomed a new forward in Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, signed from Ajax.

Things went well. Suarez, within a day of arriving, was on the bench for Wednesday’s game against Stoke City. He entered the game at the 63-minute mark -- and 10 minutes later, he scored.

Debuts don’t get much better than that. Liverpool coach Kenny Dalglish was of course ecstatic: "He got his work permit on Tuesday and was in the squad Wednesday. He has not even had the opportunity to train with us.”

So -- according to Dalglish -- even better things are to be expected from Suarez once he has got used to his teammates and adapted to the demands of the Premier League.

Well, maybe. On Wednesday it took Suarez about 10 minutes to adapt. After 10 minutes of seeming slightly lost, Suarez looked -- to quote the TV commentator -- “at home.” The goal followed, as did a couple of skillful touches on the ball.

One wonders about those adjustments. We all know, our beloved TV commentators remind us incessantly throughout every game, how important it is for players to be “making runs” all over the place.

A word on runs. Probably 50 percent of these are movements that are so flamingly obvious that it is quite absurd for anyone to make out that they involve anything special in the way of intuition or physical effort. Of the rest, probably another 25 percent achieve nothing, but we can then blame that on the player with the ball who “didn’t see the run.” Maybe he didn’t -- or maybe he did, and had a better idea of what to do with the ball than to pass it to the runner.

But all is not lost. We are often invited to understand that, even though the runner didn’t get the ball, that was never really his intention -- he was actually making a “decoy run” to distract the attention of the defenders.

As it happens the concept of a decoy run in a fluid, improvised sport like soccer makes no sense at all -- other than on set plays -- and even then, it is a concept that should be viewed as a changeable option rather than a fixed play.

Suarez made plenty of runs on Wednesday ... why wouldn’t he? It would be surprising if he had reached his position as one of the game’s top goalscorers by standing still.

Can we not assume that he knows how and when and where to “make runs,” just as he clearly knows how to score goals: 81 goals in 101 games for Ajax, 16 in 38 games for Uruguay. And now 1 goal in 1 game for Liverpool.

Is there really anything that Suarez needs to learn about making runs or scoring goals? Who needs to make the adjustments -- Suarez or his teammates? Or neither?

It is, of course, the accepted wisdom that the more time a team spends training together, the better they will be. Like so much “accepted wisdom” this is demonstrably inaccurate. It may be so, but it may not be -- the relationship between practice and the actual playing of the game remains mysterious.

Suarez will do his adapting all right -- but the part that matters, both for him and his teammates, will come in the heat of real games. Those training sessions ... there will be plenty of opportunity there for Suarez to get to know his partners, to laugh and joke and develop the necessary camaraderie.

No doubt there will be some serious “adaptation” lessons too, but they are not likely to be ones that result in any noticeable improvement in Suarez’s ability to score goals. Suarez will have it drummed into him that the English Premier League is the toughest league in the world, and the fastest and so on (well, they’re all good selling points for the EPL marketing staff) and that he will have to toughen up because he can’t possibly be ready for such a macho setup. He has shown, already, that he is ready.

And then will come all that guff about tracking back and defensive responsibilities. There were, admittedly, not too many signs on Wednesday of Suarez wanting to do much in the way of defending. An attitude that I approve of, but one that may well cause some friction at Liverpool -- even with a former forward, and a damn good one -- as the coach.

The fact that Liverpool has also just signed, for an English record fee of $52 million, another striker -- the towering and lumbering Andy Carroll - complicates matters. At 6-foot-3 Carroll will -- count on it -- be used as a target man. That is what always happens when a massive center forward takes the field. The long balls start flying into the penalty area, and that dreadful term “knock-down” -- sometimes known as “second ball” -- becomes an important part of the tactical approach.

Suarez may find himself operating as a scavenger, lurking near Carroll, waiting to pounce on the knock-downs. There is an obvious danger here. The EPL, besides being the world’s greatest, etc, etc, league, is also the world’s most primitive at the tactical level. Knock-downs and crosses are still the basics of English attacking soccer.

As a skillful instinctive goalscorer, Suarez may have trouble with the sheer crudity of all that. He may want to find out from his Uruguay teammate Diego Forlan just why it was that Forlan was such a wonderful goalscorer wherever he played ... except for his spell at Manchester United. Was that all Forlan’s fault -- or was the English soccer mentality to blame? How could the man be a flop at ManU in 2004 - yet go on to win the Spanish scoring title in 2005, and then be voted the outstanding player of the 2010 World Cup?

Possibly Forlan simply got to ManU too soon. Chicharito is there now, scoring crucial goals so maybe the English mentality is changing -- hopefully to the point where it will allow a highly skilled goalscorer like Suarez to do more than track back and feed off knock-downs and crosses.

6 comments about "Suarez needs no time to adjust at Liverpool".
  1. Kent James, February 4, 2011 at 8:40 a.m.

    As usual, a provocative column, but a bit to harsh on English soccer and anything that hints of learning soccer other than innately (or on the streets). Much as we'd all like to play like Lionel Messi, we don't all have his quickness, skill, etc. I don't know Andy Carroll, but from your description of his characteristics, it sounds like being a "stand-up" striker suits him. I agree that a creative, possession, skillful game (like Barcelona and Arsenal, my two favorite teams) is best, but that is not the only way to play soccer. Why not keep other options open? If a team has a bunch of small, quick defenders, but are weak in the air, why not exploit that weakness with someone who is good in the air? While I agree that the direct route should not always be the one taken, it should be taken if it's left open.
    And I disagree with your belief that creative offensive players should not play defense. Yes, they should not sacrifice their offensive prowess to play defense, but most of the time, that should not be the case. And these players should be fit enough that they can "track back" if the opposing team's defense is attacking. Of course, remaining high on the field as a threat for the counter may be the best way to play defense (limiting how much the other team's defense can go forward), but when the occasion demands, playing defense should not be beneath an attacking player. Besides, how many players can you afford to have that don't play defense?
    Finally, I'm not sure what your criticism of "making runs off the ball" is. Yes, senseless charging about is indeed senseless. But the game is dynamic, and movement changes how a defense must play, which opens up space for the offense to exploit. So intelligent runs off the ball, even when the player does not get the ball, can be important because they help the players who do have the ball. In other words, you can be creative even without the ball, I'd think you, of all people, would recognize that possibility (and approve).

  2. Albert Harris, February 4, 2011 at 8:48 a.m.

    With all the talk about whether or not Carroll was worth what was paid for him, it seemed to me that whether or not he could partner well with Suarez got lost in the shuffle. Certainly a partnership with Carroll presents a far different situation than one with Torres presented. It will be interesting to watch developments and see if King Kenny can develop a tactical system that can utilize such different types of strikers, not to mention Garrard and Meireles, both of whom bring so much offensive skill to the table. Let's just hope it won't be as Paul fears: "Let's hoof it up to the big lad and see what happens." Players of this skill level deserve so much more freedom than that.

  3. Gus Keri, February 4, 2011 at 10:06 a.m.

    Paul, it took Suarez all of 16 minutes to score. Not 10 minutes. For someone in your stature to make such a glaring mistake is unforgivable. You probably are trying to convert the unite from the international metric system to the imperial one. It's like playing a 56.25 minuts game instead of 90 minutes game. Of course he needs time to adjust. 16 minutes are not acceptable. Sorry, readers. I couldn't resist the fun.

  4. James Froehlich, February 4, 2011 at 11:53 a.m.

    Paul, I must disagree with the points you're making regarding "making runs" and "tracking back". Essentially, I think you are playing word games to make your points. "Making runs" is really a broad term that has to include not just "runs" but "walks", "ambles", "trots", etc. The purpose of a "run" is twofold: (1)to provide a good passing angle for the player carrying the ball, and (2) to make defenders react to the changing position of this player. Your favorite team, Barca (and mine), is a perfect example of "movement off the ball" but you will not see them making runs "all over the place", even though the concept is exactly the same. Also with the term "tracking back" to aid in defense, I afraid you have again resorted to some semantic shenanigans to make your point more emphatically. As with "making runs", "tracking back" is a very broad concept. Does it really mean that the striker is expected to dash back to take a position in front of his defenders or does it mean that the striker should immediately, upon the loss of possession, begin to apply defensive pressure. Again Barca is the perfect example of a team where ALL players assume defensive postures as soon as possession is lost. IMO the latter definition is by far the prevalent and more reasonable interpretation.

  5. James Froehlich, February 4, 2011 at 1:19 p.m.

    Ric -- Perfect!!!

  6. Loren C. Klein, February 4, 2011 at 1:43 p.m.

    Yeah, Suarez will sulk as he picks up scraps in the area because Liverpool under Dalglish has done nothing but lump balls up to the big man up top. Geez, Paul, do you even watch football besides the highlights on Fox Soccer and Ray Hudson's doing verbally promiscuous things to Barcelona on GolTV?

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