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Deconstructing Luis Suarez v. Wigan

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With the tactical breakdown of Lucas against Wigan already well covered--not to mention that the subject of Lucas might well deserve a week off around these parts--it seemed a good time to take a slightly deeper look at just what sort of player new signing Luis Suarez showed himself to be in his first full match with Liverpool.

Certainly he's lively, and based on his goal against Stoke in a cameo appearance and the pair of posts struck in the full ninety against Wigan he also seems a certain goal threat. Beyond that, though, the match against Wigan--with much of his involvement seen in the above video--went a long way to confirming that he is indeed the sort of player most people thought he was, and that while exceptionally early, the initial impression is that the Premier League at the very least isn't unsuited to him as was an occasional fear given attackers moving to England from the Dutch league have at times come up rather short.

Chalkboard One: Shooting

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He's certainly not afraid to shoot, and with most of his shots coming from around the edge of the box and towards the outside he isn't going to be a poacher. His shot location, much as the return may be limited, supports the impression of a wide or reserved striker and not any variety of traditional nine, as he likes to approach the box at an angle from wide positions and is comfortable shooting from distance--an impression that for many was at least partially formed by a gorgeously struck World Cup curler in the rain against South Korea. With Dirk Kuyt's form coming back down to earth against Wigan, Andy Carroll's attempts quickly return from injury may prove integral to Suarez' short term effectiveness. Either that or Kuyt will need to show that Wigan was a blip for him, at least under Dalglish, and that despite doubts he has the touch to consistently and effectively play in the center against more defensive sides.

Chalkboard Two: Passing

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His passing, especially in comparison to a more traditional central striker in the away leg against Wigan this season, only goes to emphasize his play from wide and willing involvement in the build-up. Two noteworthy patterns appear to emerge on Suarez' chalkboard: first, his involvement in the short passing game up and down the left flank to build attacks, even in a match that most agreed was on the whole somewhat less fluid and incisive than many under Kenny Dalglish; and second, his willingness to drop off slightly in the attacking third and again involve himself in cycling the ball in that zone as the players sought a killer final ball rather than relying on low percentage speculative efforts. As much as he can be a deadly finisher, his efforts against Wigan also confirm the impression of a more versitile attacker who will often involve himself in link up play, particularly on the left where he has spent much of his career. It also helps confirm the impression of a player who likes to attack the goal while facing it, rather than holding up play centrally and linking players on.

Chalkboard Three: Tackles

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Yet more proof of his tendency to take up wide areas is seen in his tackles. Or more rightly, his attempted tackles, since he wasn't especially effective in that side of the game. Still, one doesn't really expect attacking players to have a high rate of successful tackles, and perhaps the most valuable bit of information to take away from his efforts against Wigan is the way it shows commitment to pressuring high up the pitch when Liverpool has lost possession. It's the sort of defending from the front that has made a full return under Dalglish, and even if most of the tackles by attackers in that final third are unsuccessful in the end, that pressure is invaluable for forcing turnovers elsewhere on the pitch and pinning the opponent back as players are forced to move to support their pressurized teammates. It's the same strategy that Liverpool often found themselves victim to early in the season, and in the circumstances it is that the tackles are even being attempted that is key far more than whether they are actually successful. Though of course the occasional successful tackle high up the pitch is a nice bonus.

Chalkboard Four: Free-Kicks

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Tied to Suarez' many tackle attempts high up the pitch, his free-kick map shows that none of those unsuccessful challenges lead to fouls against. On the other hand, with the ball Suarez drew quite a few, all of them fairly central and many in quite dangerous areas. He does appear to have a tendency to go down rather easily, an aspect of his game many were aware of going in, but as long as he sticks to tumbling over when contact has legitimately been made I don't know that there will be too much room for complaint. In any case, going from shots to passing to tackles showed a player who spent much of the game operating in moderately wide areas. What the free-kicks show, though, is that when he moves from link up play into the final thrust of attack there is a definite tendency to cut inside, attacking Zone 14 on his stronger foot and more often than not creating a dangerous situation for the opponent, all adding up to the quintessential inverted winger or wide striker.

He may not solve the long-standing complaints of many about lack of natural width on that side of the pitch, and his ability to cut inside and play his natural game might well be compromised by a permanent shift to the right rather than through the occasional side swapping seen in a fluid team. Still, the early returns suggest he should score more than a few goals in England, and his apparent comfort involving himself in the build-up play and dropping deeper in the wide areas should help in any modern system that relies on possession to move the fullbacks forward for width, not least the 4-3-3 many expect he will take up a wide forward role in when everything is said and done.