Suarez em­bod­ies Barca con­quest

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

BARCELONA — This one was for Jo­han Cruyff Cruyff.

On the day his life was cel­e­brated at the Camp Nou, af­ter a bru­tally un­timely and un­fairly early death, the oc­ca­sion was too much for Barcelona’s play­ers.

The resistance of ri­vals Real Madrid, the same team that chased the Cata­lans right down to the last few min­utes of La Liga, the ex­haus­tion of the FIFA virus and the emo­tion of the mo­ment made April’s Cla­sico a mo­ment to cel­e­brate the im­pact of a man Cruyff wanted to sign for Bar Barcelona but couldn’t: Zine­dine Zi­dane.

The Zi­dane ef­fect gal­vanised Los Blan­cos. Any­one with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for com­bat­ive el­e­gance will hope that ef­fect doesn’t just con­tinue but blos­soms.

But com­pare that to the Cruyff ef­fect. As Ger­ard Pique went off the Nuevo Los Carmenes pitch hav­ing helped steer his club through to the ti­tle on Satur­day, the Barce- lona cen­tre-back said: “We’ve“We’v won six out of the last eight ti­tles, I think t that’s in­cred­i­ble”.

And it is. Par­tic­u­larly in con­text of how Barcelona, prior to Cruyff’s ar­rival as man­ager in 1988, didn’t re­ally make a habit of be­ing Span­ish Cham­pi­ons. They were ti­tle win­ners twice be­tween 1960196 and 1991, but af­ter Cruyff took over, Bar­caBar have won 14 league crowns.

So, there’s a nat­u­ral fit thatt in the year of his death, hav­ing flopped the au­di­tion to hon­our him prop­erly last month,m Barcelona should have the class, the m mus­cle, the de­ter­mi­na­tion and the sheer cha cham­pion’s men­tal­ity to en­sure that they weren’tweren hu­mil­i­ated on the last day.

And there is a fur­ther lin link. You can’t as­cribe a tro­phy that An­dres Ini­es­taIn called “the big ti­tle” to one per­son alone.alon That would be lu­di­crous. But if there has to be an em­blem of this Liga vic­tory, it is of cou course Luis Suarez.

He’s scored more times for Barcelona in slightly more than a sea­son and a half than he did in three-and-a-half years at Liver­pool. Now he’s won the Span­ish­pichichi and the Euro­pean Golden Boot. Now he’s the guy who saw them throughth thick and thin, ei­ther with great goalsg or scrappy goals or the odd penalty or a flurry of as­sists — the most of any play­erp in La Liga and the most of his ca­reer ca­reer. The link, of course, is A Ajax. Part of Barcelona’s prob­lem­spro this year in not win­ning the ti­tle morem hand­somely is that this was the sea­son in which FIFA’S pun­ish­ment for rule breach­es­brea re­gard­ing sign­ing ju­ve­nile play­ers came­cam home to roost.

Had it not been for Barcelona’sBarc in­abil­ity to re­stock as they’d have wished,wi ei­ther last sum­mer or in the win­ter mar­ket,m then it’s not only fea­si­ble, but likely,likely that this group would have re­tained the Cham­pi­onsCh League and be­come the first in his­to­ry­his to win the dou­ble treble.

Pun­ish­ments are there t to warn and dis­suade — and to pun­ish. So per­haps there’s lit­tle for the Camp Nou clubc to com­plain about. They were guilty of the of­fences, it’s for oth­ers to say whether the pun­ish­ment fits the crime.

But they just ran out of juicej a lit­tle bit, and their roll-of-the-dice sign­ingss of Aleix Vi­dal and Arda Turan hav haven’t paid sig­nif­i­cant div­i­dends. At least not yet.

For one rea­son or an­oth­er­a­n­othe — daily work, tac­ti­cal in­struc­tions, how quickly the ball must be moved, the player hi­er­ar­chy, po­si­tional sense, time­keep­ing plus­plu a host of other lit­tle de­tails — the two men haven’t hit the ground run­ning af­ter sac­ri­ficingsac­rifi a hand­ful of months in dry dock. Signed for Barcelona in the sum­mer, but un­able to play un­til Jan­uary.

Suarez, re­mem­ber, was dif­fer­ent.di When he re­turned to play­ing for Barcelon­aBar af­ter his long ban, he had to find matc match sharp­ness and shed a kilo or so.

But with even less time in train­ing than Vi­dal and Turan ben­e­fit­ted­ben­e­fitte from, Suarez be­came ut­terly vi­tal to the teamt last sea­son and an ab­so­lute key com­pon com­po­nent in their treble.

So this sea­son’s im­prove­mentim­provem — bet­ter fit­ness, bet­ter goal to­tals, moremo as­sists, more of an abil­ity to step up on daysd when Lionel Messi or Ney­mar were ei­there­ith ab­sent or off form — matches how each of his trans­fers have seen him move up in termst of the size of club and the pres­sure he faced, as well as his abil­ity to re­act to those stepss up with im­prove­ments in his g game. While his movemo to Barcelona should have been his most test­ing, he’sh been su­perb partly be­causeb of what he learnedlearn in the club that Cruyf­fCr made great: Ajax.

Sua Suarez’s un­der­stand stand­ing of tech­nique, positi po­si­tion, tac­tics, work rate, team­work — all of it wasw honed in the Am­ster Am­s­ter­dam school of foot­ball. That’s helped him not on­lyo un­der­stand but dom­i­nate­dom­ina the play at Barcelona Barcelona. And there’s still more about the Uruguayan that helps map this sea­son that has al­ready yielded three ma­jor tro­phies for Barca with the Copa del Rey fi­nal to come on Sun­day.

That ban he in­curred for bit­ing Gior­gio Chiellini in the last World Cup meant he went nearly two years with­out play­ing for Uruguay un­til be­ing re­stored to the squad in March. Painful though that was for him, the ben­e­fits were also gi­gan­tic.

A lit­tle break, men­tally and phys­i­cally, ev­ery few months with no ex­tra in­jury pres­sures, fewer jet-lag-in­duc­ing transat­lantic flights and some alone time with man­ager Luis En­rique — they’re all tiny win­dows of op­por­tu­nity that he’s used to re­main un­be­liev­able ef­fec­tive.

When did Barcelona’s mini-stum­ble be­gin to al­low Atletico Madrid and Real into the fight? To al­low this ti­tle race to sud­denly be­come so tense? Im­me­di­ately af­ter Suarez’s first com­pet­i­tive matches in South Amer­ica dur­ing a FIFA break since the sum­mer of 2014.

What did it cost him? Hav­ing scored 12 goals in his pre­vi­ous 11 matches, he missed an open goal against Madrid in that Cla­sico and then failed to score against them, Real So­ciedad, Va­len­cia or Atletico in the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nal sec­ond leg.

There was cor­re­la­tion be­tween the rein­tro­duc­tion of tough, long-dis­tance travel, the pres­sures of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball and Suarez’s sud­den loss of goal-scor­ing form.

But as soon as he’d re­gained fresh­ness and sharp­ness, there were 14 goals in five matches and the ti­tle was in the bag.

He’s play­ing in a Barcelona side that needs new blood, new ea­ger­ness and new hunger. The equiv­a­lent of what hap­pened in the sum­mer of 2008, with the ar­rival of Dani Alves, Ger­ard Pique and Sey­dou Keita, plus the pro­mo­tion of Ser­gio Bou­quets and Pe­dro.

Or the sum­mer of 2014, when Clau­dio Bravo, Suarez, Marc-an­dre ter Ste­gen, Ivan Rakitic, Rafinha and Jeremy Mathieu made such a vast im­pact.

A ti­tle re­mains for Barcelona, if they can win in the Copa fi­nal on Sun­day. A haul of Euro­pean Su­per­cup, Club World Cup, Span­ish Primera cham­pi­ons and Copa del Rey kings would be im­pres­sive.

But a mea­sure of this group’s great­ness is that they’ll al­ways be­lieve they should have won the dou­ble treble.

Madrid’s sea­son, mean­while, can be marked by a hand­ful of very straight­for­ward events. The first was the ap­point­ment of Rafa Ben­itez. A tal­ented coach, ap­pointed at the club he loves, and a hard worker. He was never the right ap­point­ment, partly be­cause Madrid was wrong for him, not only vice-versa.

Per­haps if that ap­point­ment hadn’t been forced upon a squad that wanted Carlo Ancelotti to be re­tained, then Los Blan­cos might have been cham­pi­ons. Hav­ing missed out on the ti­tle by the breadth of one de­cent re­sult, it un­der­lines that sev­eral in­stances of dropped points — draw­ing 0-0 with Sport­ing Gi­jon or Malaga, los­ing af­ter hav­ing led at Sevilla, draw­ing af­ter hav­ing led at Atletico — could have and should have been wins that would have given Madrid the ti­tle by a point.

It’s a judge­ment on Madrid’s ethos and be­nign dic­ta­tor­ship that Ben­itez felt forced (or per­haps felt safer in his job) to field the de­fen­sively in­ept Danilo and bench the hard-nosed Casemiro.

Both de­ci­sions played a huge part in Novem­ber’s 4-0 Cla­sico thrash­ing that helped guide the ti­tle to Barcelona.

Madrid’s great gain from this sea­son is the knowl­edge that while Zi­dane still has much to prove in terms of strat­egy and tac­tics, this be­ing so early in his se­nior man­age­ment ca­reer, there is a guy who still car­ries huge im­pact on his play­ers and who has put his club in a po­si­tion to sal­vage some­thing from the wreck­age in a fort­night’s time at the San Siro.

An­other vi­tal key for Madrid to take from their close-but-no-cigar sea­son is that they must find a way to keep their three-jew­elled crown, the so-called BBC, fit­ter more of­ten. Bale, pro­lific in the last third of the sea­son, started 21 league matches.

Ben­zema, just as Ben­itez de­manded, has pro­duced the best league scor­ing form of his life. But he started just 26 times in La Liga.

And fi­nally for the run­ners-up, when your keeper, Key­lor Navas, is your player of the sea­son (which he most cer­tainly is, no mat­ter Ron­aldo’s fab­u­lous scor­ing per­for­mance) then there’s a prob­lem.

It’s a prob­lem of con­trol­ling pos­ses­sion, a prob­lem of how well the mid­field shields the de­fence, a prob­lem of the age and in­jury records of the cen­tral de­fend­ers and a prob­lem of Danilo’s de­fen­sive in­ep­ti­tude.

So there is fun to come in Mi­lan in a fort­night, but lots of work to do to turn a valiant fail­ure into suc­cess next sea­son. — ESPN

Barcelona for­ward luis Suarez

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