With 155 goals in 205 games and a haul of three La Liga titles, four Copa del Reys and the Champions League, Luis Suárez’s performance level since his 2014 move from Liverpool has done more to make the £75million Barcelona paid for him seem a bargain than any amount of market inflation.
Just last season, the Uruguayan overcame a slow start to once again break the 30-goal barrier, scoring 25 in 33 league games alone. And this term he has found the net three times in five La Liga outings.
On the face of these facts, then, it might seem strange to argue that Barcelona ought to seek a replacement for Suárez in the very near future. These facts, though, no longer tell the whole story.
What Suárez has achieved at Barça is etched irrevocably into the history of the club and European football. Starring alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar, he formed a key part of one of the most feared frontlines the game has ever seen.
But, at 31, inconsistency has crept into Suárez’s performances; he is not longer the reliable marksman of just a few seasons ago. While he can still produce moments of breathtaking skill and invention, the former Liverpool striker is verging on becoming burdensome.
Of course, surrounded by creative talents such as Messi, Ousmane Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho, Suárez will almost certainly continue to produce a goals return the envy of most strikers around the globe.
But he is no longer finding chances as frequently as before, nor dispatching them with the same unerring regularity.
As the above chart from the Football Whispers Lab illustrates, there has been a stark drop-off in Suárez’s expected goals (xG) – the metric which measures the quality and quantity of scoring chances – average of late.
After a slow start to the 2017/18 campaign, which saw him net just five league goals before December, Suárez hit a purple patch, retuning to peak form with a 15 goals in 14 games between December and March.
Depicted above, Súarez’s productivity began to slide once more from April onwards, though, with his xG per 90 minutes dropping 0.58, whereas it had been up at 0.88 from December to April.
This is in keeping with other worrying trends in Suárez’s performance statistics over the last three seasons. For instance, his goals-to-xG ratio is also on the slide, evidencing a growing inefficiency in his finishing.
In 2016/17, Suárez had a goals/xG ratio of 1.43, meaning he was scoring at a much higher rate than would be expected for the quality and quantity of chances he was receiving. Last season, that average dropped to 1.01; this term, it’s down to 0.91, which means he is currently finishing his chances at a below-average rate.
Accordingly, Suárez’s shot accuracy has fallen in each of the last three seasons, too: dropping from 48.3 per cent, to 46.2 per cent, to this term’s average of 42.1 per cent.
The saving grace for Suárez currently is that he remains a creative influence. His expected goals assisted (xA) average is 0.34 per 90, the same as last season and a slight improvement on the year before (0.32).
But with Barcelona expected to sweep up domestically once again, while also aiming to add the Champions League to their trophy haul, the Uruguayan must rediscover his reliability in front of goal.
Turning 32 in January, though, this trend is likely representative of a decline in his game, rather than being a matter of form, meaning Barça may soon have to seek a new No.9.