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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Luis Suarez scores twice for Barcelona in Huesca rout but cannot escape the doubters

Uruguayan striker has had a slow start to the season and while his name was chanting inside the Camp Nou, certain supporters are concerned he's past his best

Luis Suarez scored Barcelona's late penalty after Lionel Messi handed him the spot-kick. AP Photo
Luis Suarez scored Barcelona's late penalty after Lionel Messi handed him the spot-kick. AP Photo

A No 9 scored a goal after two minutes in Sunday’s Barcelona v Huesca match, but against all expectations it was Cucho for promoted Huesca in their first league appearance at a stadium big enough to hold the population of their city twice over.

At the other end, Barca’s No 9, Luis Suarez, huffed and puffed as he went in search of his first goal of the season. The Uruguayan, 31, had played every minute of Barca’s three games so far but hadn’t managed to find the net.

When you’ve set the bar as high as Suarez has done in recent years by becoming the first man in eight years to break the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly, that becomes a story.

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It took Suarez’s 40 league goals to topple the pair in 2015-16, a season when he scored 59 in total. That was never going to be equalled and he scored 37 in total the following season and 31 last term – 25 of them in the league.

He was no fast track bully either, as he scored in both games against Real Madrid and against Atletico Madrid, Villarreal, plus both Sevilla and Real Betis away. He also scored twice at Real Sociedad, usually a graveyard for Barca.

The numbers are still there, but while Suarez isn’t getting any younger, it’s harsh to write him off as finished after a slow start to the season. He usually starts slowly but then so did Ronaldo, two years his superior, last term, netting only four times before the end of December. Ronaldo ended up with 26 and another 15 in the Uefa Champions League.

There are concerns around Suarez, though, some of which aren't his fault. In letting fellow forward Paco Alcacer leave, Barca cut the competition for Suarez, with Munir the only challenger, bar an attacking player who isn’t a natural forward like Philippe Coutinho, when switched Barça’s prodigious forwards around.

Ernesto Valverde wanted to sign Antoine Griezmann and he would have added some pressure, but as it stands Suarez is virtually undroppable.

Being Lionel Messi’s best mate helps a lot. The pair are neighbours, travel to training and games together, share mate drinks and their wives are close friends. It’s not a given with Messi as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez or David Villa might attest, but Suarez is still doing enough.

Against Huesca, he worked hard to get in the right positions and was selfless in trying to find Ousame Dembele rather than going for goal with his side’s first chance, but he cut a frustrated figure as things didn’t go for him.

He played on the right of a front three with Messi in the middle and Dembele on the left. They would switch throughout, yet Suarez needed a goal. In the 38th minute he put his hands on the ground in frustration, but a minute later he scored – only for the goal to be reviewed by VAR. It was given and Suarez’s teammates surrounded him in celebration.

Suarez also set up Dembele for Barca’s fourth after 48 minutes. A minute later the former Nacional, Groningen, Ajax and Liverpool man, had a one on one chance before his effort was saved by Axel Werner.

On another day, he would have scored, but he will have been cheered by the reaction of Barca’s most vocal fans immediately behind one goal singing his name. The support of the fans inside the stadium made a change from the online approbation directed towards him from armchair Barca fans.

Huesca scored a second goal to become the first Primera Liga newcomer since Malaga in 1999 to score twice, but they also conceded eight as the game ended 8-2.

Suarez scored the final goal, a penalty handed to him by Messi, who would have made it a hat-trick if he scored. Suarez ending with two goals will help his confidence, but the feeling that the striker isn’t what he was will persist, even if subliminally.

“It’s Barcelona and they have players that when they attack hurt you,” said Cucho after the game. “They have players like Messi … Messi. And Coutinho.”