The perfect chance for Suárez to bite back after criticism

Real Madrid v Barcelona: The perfect chance for Suarez to bite back after criticism

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Luis Suárez has endured a difficult few weeks, but he appears to have taken a weight off his shoulders at the perfect time.

Deep into stoppage time at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday, Lionel Messi found a pocket of space like only he can, nonchalantly chesting the ball and then dropping it over the defence for Luis Suarez to find the net.

The Uruguayan striker produced his trademark celebration, his expression suggesting the goal was as routine as the previous 168 in a Barcelona shirt.

But, inside, Suarez was surely overcome with relief, for his clinching goal in the 4-2 win at Sevilla ended a five-match drought across all competitions and saw him net in LaLiga for the first time since January 20.

Ahead of two Clásicos in four days, it has been a problematic time for Suarez, who has arguably been questioned and criticised like at no other point in his Barcelona career.

Listless Luis laboured in Lyon

Central to the criticism was his performance in Barca's 0-0 draw at Lyon in the Champions League last-16 first leg, as Suarez struggled immensely – his first touch, finishing and movement all appearing muddled.

Anthony Lopes did produce a couple of good saves to thwart him, but there were still major questions asked of Suarez after last Tuesday's game.

Many of the chances he wasted would have been considered routine for a striker of Suarez's standard, while one particular incident saw him somehow miss the target from about six yards.

Ernesto Valverde was quick to defend him, adamant that he would be have been more worried if the chances were not flowing.

While that seems a reasonable observation, there is little doubt Suarez has suffered.

Killer instinct on the wane?

In Suarez's first 23 matches of the season across all competitions, he scored 14 and set up another seven, converting 15.73 per cent of his shots in that period.

Since scoring twice in the 3-0 win over Eibar on January 13, Suarez's form has dipped.

In 11 matches on all fronts, he has scored only three goals and laid on just one to team-mates, but the most worrying aspect is his conversion rate of 9.09 per cent.

Suarez has been a great servant to Barca, no one will doubt that, but his recent struggles have only been further highlighted by the fact he passed 24 hours of game time without an away goal in the Champions League during the draw with Lyon.

His most recent goal on the road in Europe's elite competition was against Roma in September 2015.

A lack of competition

One explanation some have offered for Suarez's woes has been the fact he does not have an understudy, thus robbing him of competition to help keep him on his toes and, potentially more importantly, more frequent rests.

Only Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Gerard Pique (25 each) have more than Suarez's 24 LaLiga appearances for Barca this season, with Ernesto Valverde possessing few other options.

He has seemed very reluctant to play Kevin-Prince Boateng, while Munir El Haddadi was allowed to follow Paco Alcacer out of the exit door.

Reports of an interest in Eintracht Frankfurt's Benfica-owned Luka Jovic suggests respite could be coming at the end of the season, but until then Barca find themselves light in attack beyond Suarez, and it could finally be taking its toll on the 32-year-old.

The perfect time to bite back

Suarez's lovely lob over Sevilla's Tomas Vaclik could not have come at a better time.

Up next for Barca is a Clásico double-header which could go some way to determining how their season will finish.

Barca go into Wednesday's Copa del Rey semi-final second leg having only managed to draw 1-1 at home in the first meeting, while a defeat in LaLiga three days later could result in their lead being cut to just four points.

Earlier in the season, Suarez had arguably his greatest performance in a Barca shirt as they trounced Madrid 5-1 at Camp Nou, resulting in the sacking of Julen Lopetegui.

Suarez was devastating, scoring a hat-trick and leading the line expertly – perhaps the huge occasion of a Clasico semi-final will bring out his best once again, having finally lifted a weight from his shoulders.