Where Will Luis Suarez Fit?

Clive Brunskill

Luis Suarez returns from his ten-match domestic ban at the end of the month, and he's apparently going to be given a starting berth out wide rather than through the middle.

There's an article by Andy Hunter in The Guardian that's been doing the rounds over the past 24 hours in which Hunter claims to have the inside track on Brendan Rodgers' thinking when it comes to how to re-integrate Luis Suarez into a Liverpool squad that's won three of three to start the Premier League season. We still have a couple of matches left to run before we find out what Rodgers will actually do, as the trip to Swansea and a home date with Southampton will see Suarez complete the ban before the League Cup fixture at Manchester United on September 25.

Hunter may very well be in the know regarding Rodgers' plan, but it's also possible that he's put some very basic pieces together to hypothesize what best accommodates the squad as-is. There was a time--most of last season, as Rodgers has pointed out--that the squad was all about playing to the strengths of Suarez, but after so long without him, that time seems to have passed.

Ignoring whatever sort of off-pitch matters that still need settling regarding his place in the squad (which appear to have been addressed, but still), that leaves Suarez in need of adapting to what's working thus far, as well as what Rodgers wants to do with those that have been available and flourishing in the absence of the Uruguayan. We know that Daniel Sturridge is capable of leading Liverpool's attack on full fitness, and there's little reason to move him to suit Suarez. We know that the manager wants Philippe Coutinho operating centrally rather than wide, where his influence has often been limited. And, despite how much we love him, we know that Jordan Henderson is not likely a week-in, week-out starter with the arrival of Victor Moses and the return of Suarez.

So Suarez wide makes a fair bit sense, inside information or not. That's not without its problems, though, even if there's plenty of discussion about his form at Ajax from the wide areas and how he'll manage to be influential regardless of where he sets up. Those things are both true; the former is a fact based on things that actually happened, and the latter is based on a few seasons' worth of popping up in dangerous positions from all over the attacking third, often finding a way to score goals that probably don't have any business going in given where he started.

But squad balance is critical as well, and Suarez has a spotty history at best when it comes to turning in the types of comprehensive performances demanded by the wide players in Brendan Rodgers' system. Even though his attacking influence is limited on the flank, Coutinho puts in a shift at both ends, tracking back well and throwing around what little frame he has to make an impact defensively, as has Iago Aspas despite his wobbly form. The same goes for Henderson, who's finally winning over more and more supporters with his tireless work at both ends of the pitch. This system--and particularly the way Liverpool have set up with 1-0 leads in the early season--demands that everyone's involved defensively, and it's helped to showcase the work of players like Henderson.

It can also expose players, however, and a wide spot for Suarez runs that risk. He works tirelessly, no doubt, and might even track back sixty-odd yards after losing possession, but the scope of his work across ninety minutes is far more limited. It's possible the approach changes with him available, as he'll certainly add more dynamism in attack.

That can't be all he contributes, however, and if Brendan Rodgers does decide to shift Luis Suarez outside, it'll have to be with the understanding that it's now him accommodating the overall balance of the squad rather than the other way around, talented as he may be.

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