Never mind Diego Costa, here’s Superb*stard Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez leading the line for Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid is a fit so perfect that you wonder how it took until 2020 for it to happen.
Not only does Suarez possess the win-at-all-costs, body-on-the-line edge that makes him ideal for a Simeone team, but he follows in the club’s recent lineage of prolific forwards.
Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa, David Villa, Antoine Griezmann – you’ll struggle to find another club that can boast such an array of names up top in recent years.
Now they can add another; Suarez has scored eight goals in his first 11 appearances for the club, equalling Falco’s record for the best start made by any of their forwards this century.
The issue for Atletico last season was that the goals came to a halt following Antoine Griezmann’s move to the Camp Nou. When they needed someone to step up and make the difference, too often they were lacking.
With 51 goals scored, Simeone’s side registered the fewest in the top seven, including newly-promoted Granada.
The coach theoretically had what he needed, but Diego Costa looked a shadow of the player that was so pivotal in their miraculous 2013-14 title win upon his return.
Alvaro Morata, potentially a top-class centre-forward in the right environment, just looked fundamentally too nice to excel under Simeone. He was an unnatural fit, like Andy Carroll turning out for a Pep Guardiola team.
Luis Suarez in La Liga this season:
👕 11 games
⚽ 8 goals
🏆 Top of the leaguepic.twitter.com/6DiJXtitaA
— Goal (@goal) December 30, 2020
Real Madrid and Barcelona both had their struggles last season but, unlike in 2013-14, Atletico were not equipped to take advantage, finishing a distant third behind two far-from-vintage sides. Morata finished the season as their top scorer with just 12 La Liga goals and 16 in all competitions.
Like with David Villa in 2013, thrown to the scrapheap too early by Barcelona, Atletico have done well to make the most of an opportunity. Suarez might not be able to rabidly chase balls like he did at Liverpool, but he still has that edge which makes him so dangerous.
No one can doubt the striker’s credentials in Spain. He spent six wildly successful years at Barcelona, helping win the treble in his first year after joining from Liverpool, lift four league titles and scoring 198 goals in 283 appearances.
The 40 La Liga goals he scored in 2015-16 made him the first and only player not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to win the Pichichi award for top scorer since his compatriot and former team-mate Forlan did so with Atleti back in 2008-09.
But his ageing knees were seen as symptomatic of the Catalan club’s physical decline, having been so starkly outrun, outworked and outclassed in the 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich (where he did score an excellent consolation goal).
Suarez might not have the mobility he used to, but he hasn’t lost the hunger or his eye for a goal.
That much was evident from day one at the Wanda Metropolitano, a 20-minute cameo off the bench against Granada. He scored twice, set up another and won a penalty. He even came close to a hat-trick.
Luis Suarez dominated on his Atletico debut 🙌pic.twitter.com/jeVNmX2rh9
— Goal (@goal) September 28, 2020
He’s not looked back since – only Celta Vigo forward and former Liverpool team-mate Iago Aspas has scored more so far this season. His eighth goal of the campaign was a match-winning header against a robust, well-drilled Getafe side.
That latest victory sees Atletico go into 2021 as arguably the favourites for the title. They’re top of the league with a two-point lead over Real Madrid and an extra two games in hand.
Barcelona, having played one game more, are already 10 points behind. Martin Braithwaite, who scored eight goals in 38 Championship appearances for Middlesbrough, is now their only natural No.9.
A crisis club on and off the pitch, Barcelona undoubtedly needed their squad freshening up and their bloated wage bill alleviated.
But as the season goes on, the logic of doing that by selling Suarez to a competitor for a nominal fee is coming under increasing scrutiny – not least from best mate Lionel Messi.
“You deserved a farewell befitting who you are: one of the most important players in the history of the club, achieving great things for the team and on an individual level,” Messi wrote on Instagram after the transfer was sealed.
“You did not deserve for them to throw you out like they did. But the truth is that at this stage nothing surprises me any more.”
Midway through the season, Messi still isn’t willing to forgive and forget.
“What happened with Luis Suarez to Atleti was crazy. He left for free, paying the remaining years of his contract and he joined a team that fight for the same objectives as us. Unbelievable,” he told La Sexta.
“Luis Suarez’s departure had nothing to do with the decision [to submit a transfer request], but I felt it was crazy the way his exit was handled and that Barcelona let him go to a direct rival. We speak a great deal and I speak to Luis every day.”
Meanwhile, at Atletico, Diego Costa has been superseded by a new bastard-in-chief.
“One of us can do the fighting and the other can do the biting,” he said upon Suarez’s arrival.
Having been usurped by the Uruguayan when it comes to the first team, Costa was supportive on the record, albeit in his own unique style. “I wasn’t here and Suarez wasn’t scoring; I come back and he gets two, the bastard!” he joked after the new favourite twice against Elche.
While it was undoubtedly said with his tongue firmly in his cheek, it might have exposed a glimmer of truth in how he really felt. Ten days later, Costa was gone, agreeing with the club to terminate his contract.
Perhaps it’s because he knows he’s no longer the main man. Atleti have a new bastard, the Superbastard.
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