Seven is an important number. The Magnificent Seven. The Secret Seven. The Seven Deadly Sins. And now the seven possible replacements for Luis Suárez.
Barcelona have, according to reports, drawn up a list of forwards who could be the 31-year-old Uruguayan’s long-term successor at the Camp Nou. The players mentioned sensibly skew heavily towards the young — not a single one is over the age of 23.
But who would be the best fit?
Not Krzysztof Piątek or Kasper Dolberg
If Barcelona are looking for a like-for-like replacement, Piatek is going to be the first name crossed off the list. He may score – a lot, 0.81 goals per 90 minutes in Serie A – but he doesn’t do one thing Suárez does: create.
Piatek is the most lopsided of the seven strikers towards taking, rather than creating, chances. Piatek’s persona radar basically says that this man shoots but doesn’t do much else beyond that.
Bringing Piatek to Barcelona would presumably be a big sign of a change of style. Not since Lionel Messi emerged as a superstar have they really played with one central striker. Signing the 23-year-old Pole might be a sign that Barcelona are thinking of life after Messi, more than life after Suárez.
Dolberg is similar, as seen by his persona radar, but is two years younger and has played for famous possession-based side Ajax. If you’re picking one striker on the list who scores but doesn’t create, then Barça would surely prefer the Dutchman.
The last resorts
Their numbers are the least impressive of the options on the list — 0.29 and 0.28 expected goals per 90 respectively — but they would at least be affordable. Elsewhere on the list you have Luka Jovic, who’s 20 and averaging more than a goal every 90 minutes played. Everyone is going to be after him.
In terms of style of play, Pépé would seem to fit more immediately into Barcelona’s system. As a dribble-happy player, he could play in a wider role, and, to be frank, looks more like a Barça player. Gómez is big and broad, as his aerial play spike on his persona suggests.
Unfortunately for Pépé, the area where he’s catching eyes for Lille this season overlaps heavily with where a certain Lionel Messi plays.
The worthwhile risk
André Silva is an interesting one. After a year of struggle at AC Milan, he moved on loan to Sevilla for 2018/19 and is flourishing.
He’s scored eight goals in La Liga from 1293 minutes, both of which are a larger figure than what he achieved in Milan last year.
Despite being tall, Silva doesn’t look like a natural target man, and at Porto — where he caught the eye of AC Milan — he was a surprisingly frequent and effective dribbler.
His expected goals assisted per 90 minutes of 0.14 is about league average for strikers, a good notch below Suárez’s 0.22, but is currently the second-best on Barça’s list.
Silva’s seasons at Porto and Sevilla are promising, but his flop year in Milan in 2017/18 highlights the fact that he’s still far from the finished article. But then, every player on the list is 23 or younger, and players who are the finished article by that age are extremely rare.
Given that his successful spells have come on the Iberian peninsula, maybe the Portuguese 23-year-old is just more comfortable closer to home.
The ones everyone wants
Barça will have a fight on their hands for Timo Werner and Jovic. Out-and-out strikers are in short supply these days, after a decade of pushing players towards being more rounded. These two are the best youngsters around in this role.
Werner, at 22, has already become one of the first choices for his national team, and has two-and-a-half solid seasons at RB Leipzig to look back on.
After scoring 21 in Leipzig’s debut Bundesliga campaign, he only netted 13 in 2017/18 but added to that with seven assists. And we know how Barcelona like a striker who can do both things…
Jovic, on the other hand, caught the eye principally for goalscoring reasons. He emerged on the radars of Bundesliga (or stats) watchers last season with eight league goals in 929 minutes, or the equivalent of 10.32 full games. That return is a rate of 0.78 goals per 90 minutes, or three goals for every four games played. That’s pretty damn good.
He’s only bettered this in 2018/19. His rate this year is 1.09 goals per 90 (10 goals in 828 minutes), along with three assists. He’s only 20.
Another thing working in Jovic’s favour is his trajectory. Last season he made nine starts and 13 appearances as a substitute — whenever a player has impressive stats but has primarily been a sub, that’s always a sign to be cautious of the figures being boosted by coming on late against tired defences.
That he’s carried on the scoring despite transitioning towards being a starter is very promising. Sure, he’s overperforming compared to his expected goals at the moment, but his 0.51xG per 90 minutes is still impressive. It’s also level with Silva and behind Werner (0.6xG per 90).
That trio are clearly the ones who Barça should prioritise. None of them quite come close to the rounded game that Suárez offers, but they’re the best options on the list.