Two goals, an assist and an overturned penalty – Suarez's stunning Atleti debut in Opta numbers

By Sports Desk September 27, 2020

Luis Suarez was deemed surplus to requirements as Barcelona have looked to rejuvenate their squad, but the 33-year-old stole the show in a 6-1 victory on his Atletico Madrid debut.

Atleti were already 3-0 up against Granada in LaLiga by the time Suarez was introduced in the 70th minute at Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday, setting the stage for him to take the headlines.

In a remarkable cameo, Suarez scored twice, provided an assist and won a penalty, which was subsequently overturned by VAR.

Suarez, who scored with a brilliant header and then a cute first-time finish on the rebound after he had hit the post, managed four attempts in total, created one chance and completed 10 passes from his 16 touches, with a 70 per cent passing accuracy.

His tally of shots was the most of any player on either side, while his two efforts on target both resulted in goals. The assist, for fellow substitute Marcos Llorente, came with just his second touch.

The Uruguay striker's double makes him the first Atleti debutant to net a brace, while he is also the first player to both score and assist on his debut for the club in the 21st century.

With Suarez's star quality to call on, Diego Simeone's side could be well placed to mount a serious title challenge this term.

A penny for Lionel Messi's thoughts.

Related items

  • Ramos returns for Clasico as Zidane insists he is not feeling the pressure Ramos returns for Clasico as Zidane insists he is not feeling the pressure

    Zinedine Zidane insists he is not feeling the pressure of the sack as the Real Madrid coach welcomes back Sergio Ramos for Saturday's Clasico.

    Back-to-back home defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk have left Zidane's position under scrutiny and a loss to Barcelona at Camp Nou would only amplify concerns that the team are stagnating.

    The 3-2 loss to Shakhtar was particularly chastening, as Madrid fell 3-0 down in the first half to a team missing 10 key first-team players due to an outbreak of coronavirus, marking the first time they let in three goals in the first 45 minutes of a Champions League match in 15 years.

    Ramos missed that match through injury but is expected at least to be in the squad this weekend, although Zidane warned he wanted his captain to be at "100 per cent".

    Zidane has only lost twice in nine games against Barca as Madrid boss and his side have not conceded a goal in the previous two, with a goalless draw and a 2-0 win in last season's meetings helping Madrid go on to win the LaLiga title.

    But with only three wins in all competitions since July 16, doubts have been growing over Zidane's long-term suitability in his second stint in the job, and some reports in Spain suggest Mauricio Pochettino has already been contacted over the prospect of taking charge.

    Zidane, though, insists he feels the support of everyone at the club, saying: "Yes, [I feel it from] all of them. Ultimately, I've won many things with these players; they have made me win a lot of things. I will be with these players to the death. They are the ones who fight and run.

    "I can see the support, yes. But, for now, what's important for us is to change the mindset. Games are coming for us to change things. Football is beautiful for that. When things get worse, you have to bring out your character and quality."

    When asked if his future is at stake, he replied: "That's what is said. Nothing at all has changed. It was the same last year, the same in my first period. It doesn't change.

    "What I have to do is my job, give 100 per cent as always and, to the rest, nothing.

    "We look at the games. We started badly in the sense that, when they scored, it was tough for us to lift our heads.

    "That's football. There are high and low moments and you have to accept them. You have to forget what happened the other day.

    "I don't like being a victim or anything. It's a game and each one has its story, and that's the good thing about football. You can go through bad moments and the good thing is you can take that and come back to change the situation.

    "I've always been critical of myself. It's the engine to improve. After a defeat, as coach, most of the criticism is for me. And that's normal. But I don't live in the past; I'm interested in what lies ahead."

  • El Clasico: Barcelona treading new ground with Koeman's 4-2-3-1 El Clasico: Barcelona treading new ground with Koeman's 4-2-3-1

    Ronald Koeman will get his first taste of El Clasico from a dugout when Barcelona host Real Madrid on Saturday.

    The LaLiga champions head to Camp Nou after a pretty rotten week in which back-to-back home defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk have left fans and pundits alike thoroughly disillusioned with Zinedine Zidane's current approach.

    Barca also lost 1-0 in their previous league game, away to Getafe, but a 5-1 thumping of Ferencvaros in the Champions League was a tonic and, in truth, that defeat at Coliseum Alfonso Perez felt more like an aberration during what has mostly been an encouraging start under Koeman.

    The Clasico is always the acid test, though – and Barca, barring a dramatic change in system, will line up for this one in a 4-2-3-1 formation, something they have not done for at least the previous 46 meetings.

    BREAKING THE WHEEL

    Nobody need tell Koeman about Barca's traditional adherence to 4-3-3. He had enough experience as a player for the Netherlands and the Blaugrana to know such a system like the back of his hand, even if Johan Cruyff's peak 'Dream Team' – such as the one that won the 1992 European Cup final through a Koeman extra-time goal – thrived instead in a 3-4-3.

    The fact is, though, that Barca have doubled down on 4-3-3 since Frank Rijkaard took charge in 2003. He, Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino, Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde and, eventually, Quique Setien – all have either stuck religiously to the system or at least made good use of it.

    That rings true in the Clasico, too. Since the 2005-06 season, there have been 46 matches between Barca and Madrid in all competitions, and Barca have started in a 4-3-3 in 39 of them. Four games have seen them set up in a 4-4-2, and one each in 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2.

    It's yielded mixed success, as you might expect. Barca won 17 of those 39 games in 4-3-3 – a 43.6 per cent winning rate – and lost 12. They scored 71 goals and conceded 53.

    In 4-4-2, they won twice, drew once and lost once, scoring eight goals and conceding four. The 3-4-3 was, fittingly, a 3-3 LaLiga draw in October 2007; the 4-3-1-2 was that famous 3-2 win for Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu under Luis Enrique in 2017, when Lionel Messi scored his 500th club goal; and the 3-5-2 was used by Valverde when they lost 2-0 in the Supercopa de Espana second leg in the capital three years ago.

    Koeman's set-up, then, is a big departure from the norm. But will it work against Madrid?

    FATI AND FRENKIE ON FIRE

    Koeman explained this month that 4-2-3-1 was preferable because of Barca's lack of wingers. "Looking at the quality that we have, this formation is perfect for the team," he told Barca TV.

    Fans may not have warmed to the idea at first, but Koeman's approach makes sense – and there are certain players thriving in this formation.

    For one thing, it gets Ansu Fati involved closer to goal. In four league games, the young Spain star has attempted 15 dribbles, created three chances and scored three goals. The freedom to cut inside from the left has also liberated Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest at left-back, each of whom have also created three goalscoring chances. Given Madrid presently have no fully fit right-backs, that should worry Zidane.

    Another to benefit is Frenkie de Jong, a player who admitted to underwhelming in his first season after joining from Ajax for an initial €75million. He has performed positively in a central axis, usually alongside Sergio Busquets, asserting himself in games far more even though Barca's average possession figure has dropped to 59.2 per cent, lower than in any of the past 11 seasons.

    He, too, has created three goalscoring chances and has a remarkable 100 per cent success rate from 11 attempted dribbles. He has also completed 216 passes, behind only the more possession-focused Gerard Pique (255) and Busquets (261). He is a player with renewed confidence in breaking lines in transition and getting the ball into threatening areas, and Madrid's midfield three will have a real test on their hands to cover the space of Barca's four forwards while keeping De Jong quiet.

    And Messi? Koeman said before the Ferencvaros game that his captain's form "could be better", and he had a point – one goal (a penalty) and zero assists from four league games is an unusually modest return. He is also averaging 3.9 shots per game, his lowest rate since 2007-08.

    Still, Messi has created more chances (six), attempted more dribbles (19) and more shots (15) than any other Barca player in the league this season, and he may be about to face a Madrid defence without Sergio Ramos.

  • Messi earned the right to leave Barcelona – Pique hits out at Bartomeu for poor handling of transfer saga Messi earned the right to leave Barcelona – Pique hits out at Bartomeu for poor handling of transfer saga

    Lionel Messi earned the right to leave Barcelona at the end of last season, according to Gerard Pique, who has hit out at president Josep Maria Bartomeu and defended signing a new contract in an explosive interview.

    Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi stunned the world in August when he told Barca of his intention to leave the club he has spent two decades with.

    He intended to trigger a clause in his contract to walk away on a free transfer, but the validity of such a stipulation was murky due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The saga was brought to a temporary end on September 4 when the forward announced he will stay at Camp Nou for another year, rather than challenge Barca in a legal battle.

    But Pique feels the club handled the situation the wrong way, with Bartomeu allegedly backtracking on a promise to let Messi leave whenever he felt the time was right.

    "I didn't have much contact with him around that time because it was a very personal decision," he told La Vanguardia ahead of Barca's Clasico clash with Real Madrid on Saturday.

    "But I remember saying: 'Leo, it's one year, and then new people will come in'.

    "He had more than earned the right to make a decision and if he considered that he should go... I as president would have acted differently.

    "A player who for 16 years has given you so much. You are obliged to come to an agreement with him. It cannot be so obvious that the two parties are so far apart.

    "How can it be that the best player in history, who we have the luck to enjoy, gets up one day and send a burofax because he feel they are not listening to him?

    "Everything is too shocking. What is going on? Leo deserves everything. The new stadium should have his name and then that of the sponsor. 

    "We should preserve our figures, not discredit them. It makes me nervous."

    Pique also criticised Barca's "outrageous" decision to allegedly hire a social media company to damage the reputations of certain key figures, including himself and Messi.

    "As a Barca player, I see that my club as spent money to criticise us – not only people outside the club, but also those who are still playing. That is outrageous," he said, with the club having denied the claims.

    "I asked for an explanation and [Bartomeu] told me: 'Gerard, I didn't know'. I believed it, but then you see the person in charge of hiring those services is still at the club.

    "It hurts a lot. I say that because I personally told the president before. What else can I say? Is it painful? Yes. Can I do something else? Well, no.

    "My relationship with the president is cordial but there are certain things that remain."

    Pique this week penned a new four-year contract, which has reportedly caused a dressing-room split as a number of players – including the defender – are said to have signed a letter saying they will not negotiate with the current board.

    Asked about his decision to renew, and whether he considered departing Catalonia, Pique said: "If the coach didn't depend on me, I'd have had no problem [leaving].

    "The club told me and other players that due to the pandemic they will suffer a lot financially. In that situation, Barca is not above anyone. 

    "Barca have given me everything, so I put myself at their disposal. They tell me all the money I can give up this year will be collected in the future.

    "I think we are helping the club. The pay may be bigger in the future but for there to be a future we must act like this.

    "In a personal capacity, each player is free to accept the club's proposal voluntarily. 

    "Another thing is that they force you unilaterally and that they do it with the ways that they have done it. There, the truth is, I totally disagree."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.