The Suarez Conundrum

Image from

Image from

Liverpool have an issue this summer, and that issue is whether or not to sell Luis Suarez.  Every other decision they make about player personnel is secondary, partly because of the amount of money involved, and partly because of the impact Suarez has on the entire team when he’s on the pitch.

Before addressing the question of whether Liverpool should sell directly, I want to take a look at Suarez’s production. Fans on Twitter have been comparing him to Falcao, Cavani, Ibrahimovic, and Lewandowski as one of the world’s best forwards. Despite this year’s goal tally, I find myself sceptical of those comparisons, but was happy to look at the data and see what it had to say.

Suarez 2012-2013
This is an impressive year:

Year Apps G A Shots KP Drib Disp Trn PS%











Let’s start with the good. 2nd in the Premier League in goals. 1st in Shots per Game. 3rd in Key Passes per game. 1st in successful dribbles per game.  Suarez was a handful and then some.

Now for the bad. 1st in the league for being dispossessed. 2nd for turning the ball over. 3rd in Offsides per game. Great key pass numbers, but only 5 assists on the season. A 76.6% pass rate. (For comparison, Mata and Hazard were both over 85%, RVP was 80.2%.) A 12.2% conversion rate on total shots.

This season Luis Suarez was really good at creating offense for himself and his teammates. At the same time, he was surprisingly bad at turning that offensive creation into goals.

Judging players on just one season leads to bad decision making. Let’s take a gander at the 2012 model as well.

Suarez 2011-2012
This is not an impressive year:

Year Apps G A Shots KP Drib Disp Trn PS%











Fewer key passes. Similar turnover and dispossession rates. Worse passing, fewer shots per game, and a far worse conversion rate. And by far worse I mean a non-penalty conversion rate of 8.6%, which is a horrific, season-killing number.

Compared to last year, Suarez’s 2013 was amazing, but part of that is because last season was so bad.

Here are the two sides of the commemorative Luis Suarez coin.

1)      He creates a lot of offense.

2)      He’s incredibly inefficient.

Side 1 is clearly very good. Though the media rarely focus on it, side 2 is actually quite bad.

Liverpool averaged the most shots per game of any team in the big 5 leagues last season at 19.4. That’s an outstanding feat, and it’s more than Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Real Madrid.

But did they score the most goals?

No, not by some distance. In fact, they were 4th in the Premier League alone. The reason for this is because their attack was inefficient, and Suarez is a big reason for it. It came as a surprise to me, but systemically, Liverpool create about the same number of shots with and without Luis Suarez in the lineup. If shot creation is equal with and without Suarez, the only way they can score more goals is by becoming more efficient.

And Luis Suarez is the most inefficient superstar forward in the world.

Player Year NPSoT% NPConv%
Suarez 2012 37.5 8.6
Ronaldo 2013 43.2 12.2
Suarez 2013 38.5 12.3
Ronaldo 2012 35.8 13.4
Ibrahimovic 2012 43.5 13.7
Cavani 2012 37.6 13.7
Falcao 2012 44.8 13.8
RVP 2012 46.5 16.2
RVP 2013 44.9 16.7
Ibrahimovic 2013 42.4 16.9
Cavani 2013 43.7 17
Lewandowski 2012 45.7 17.8
Falcao 2013 40.7 19.5
Lewandowski 2013 54.1 24.5

What I’ve done here is strip out all of the penalties the big names have taken over the last two seasons, and looked at their Shots on Target percentage as well as their conversion rate for total shots. The reason for this is that penalties are scored at about an 80% average and basically always on target, so taking a bunch of penalties adds a lot of noise to normal goalscoring rates.

The stats don't lie, Luis! (Image from TheLiverpoolWorld)

The stats don’t lie, Luis! (Image from TheLiverpoolWorld)

I tried to rank them from least to most efficient at scoring goals from normal play, so the differences are fairly easy to see.

Putting shots on target is the minimum you ask from a forward, but it’s certainly something that can be considered a skill. Converting shots involves some element of luck (does the keeper save it, etc), and some systemic effects (Barcelona create more tap-ins than anyone because of their passing), but there’s an element of skill and shot selection there as well.

As you can see, compared to these guys, Suarez is dreadful. His average conversion rate over the two seasons is about 5% lower than the average for elite players.  At the other end of the scale, Lewandowski is amazing. If Bayern get him for less than United paid for RVP, something is seriously wrong with the world.

What’s interesting and somewhat unexpected, is that Ronaldo is also comparatively bad. This is largely due to shot selection. He averages 6.9 shots per game, a crazy number. Ronaldo’s physical gifts and dribbling skills give him the ability to create his own shot more than anyone else on the planet, but he’s so confident/trigger happy that he will literally shoot from anywhere in the final third and hope for a goal.

Even then, he’s still considerably better than Suarez at converting chances.

Beyond The Stats
Unless you live under a rock, you also know that Suarez has had a whole host of other issues since moving to Liverpool. He was banned for racist comments against Patrice Evra. He’s currently serving a suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic. (Seriously, biting!) Despite his high levels of perceived production (and inefficient or not, this year’s goal tally was really good), these other incidents have served to lower his value and cause a number of PR headaches for Liverpool Football Club.

A Complex Equation
This is how I look at this situation. Luis Suarez is a poor man’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Except not the good, efficient Ronaldo like the one that played for Manchester United in 07-08. That Ronaldo was worth £80M. Instead Suarez is the poor man’s shoots-from-anywhere Ronaldo, who is worth substantially less. Alternatively, you could call that Ronaldo “Bizarro-Messi.” That type of player is actually going to be a drag on teamwide scoring. Suarez put up good numbers last year, but even then he doesn’t compare well to the other top forwards. He’s 26 now and isn’t likely to get that much better.

Meanwhile, Liverpool are still in the process of rebuilding into a team that can compete regularly for the Champions’ League.  You know from looking at the numbers that Suarez isn’t really in the same league as the names he’s being mentioned with and he’s also one of the biggest earners at the club. Additionally, you finally have confidence that your scouting process can produce good, efficient replacements.

Question: What do you do if someone offers you £35M for Suarez?

Answer: You try to negotiate them up to £40M…

…and then you bite their hand off.



12 responses to “The Suarez Conundrum

  1. I can’t help but think that he offers more than what these stats suggest. He is playing in a weaker team than the other superstar strikers. This must have some bearing on his numbers. He knows that he is better than his teammates so he has to take more risks, i.e. take more dribbles and shots from tougher positions. With better quality players around him (such as Coutinho), he can have more trust in his teammates and let them do some of the work for him which will improve his efficiency.

    • From Simon Gleave yesterday:

      “Messi over last five years is 55% on target and scores 46.5% of those. 25.5% conversion rate of all shots which is staggering”

      • Thanks. Interesting numbers, though in a sense they confirm what Liverpool fans already know; Suarez creates a lot of chances for himself, but is sometimes wasteful. Your choice of words in a couple of places in the article will attract some discontent, though :).

  2. Brilliant article! I think if you take out the controversial side to Suarez, i.e the biting, diving, the handball on the line in World Cup 2010, etc, he would definately be worth keeping. As that will always be a part of his game, if someone offers them £35M I think its a no brainer.

  3. This artical fails to acknowledge his performance at country level it only looks at the club level and fails to acknowledge that he was a lone striker in average team -liverpool. Due to that defenders, goal keepers are better positioned to tackle him. Being a lone striker puts extra pressure on him as he plays the role of both chance created and finisher. If he is given one defined role (either of a creator) or of a finisher then his stats will be much better – A precise reason I think its time for him to move on and play with a team of his stature like bayarn or RM. I believe he will be most successful player in those clubs and media will sing coras of his brilliance unlike english media who loves mediocre and any one brilliant just gets way too much of trouble from them. Ronaldo, balo, and now suarez!!

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  5. I think the level of team a striker plays with has to be taken into consideration. Suarez has not been surrounded by other attacking options until recently. I don’t think Suarez with Jonjo Shelvey, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing is a level comparison with RVP surrounded by Rooney, Young and Kagawa or any of the talent surrounding the others on the list. Other than Gerrard, who is playing in a deep role now, Suarez has been surrounded by 60 million pounds of garbage. Why does he need to shoot so much from such strange angles? Because until Couhtino and Sturridge arrived there was basically no one else-lay one off to Borini or Suso and see what that gets you. Also, the comparison above works well to speak to the fact that Suarez may not be up to a statical comparison with Europe’s best strikers but how does he compare to other 7/8th place team strikers. I mean Liverpool are not going to be able to sign any of Europe’s best because of their place in the table so a comparison to them does little to speak to the level of player Liverpool could get to replace him. The real question is given the postion of the team in world football is a “poor man’s Ronaldo” any better than they could do on the market? Exhibit A: Andy Carroll.

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  8. spot on, which is why I’m not even worried if we lose him. Yes he did win some games all by himself, but he is also the reason why we don’t win more than we should.

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