Luis Suarez is a brilliant footballer. I think we are now beginning to get to the point where his on-field performances; his influence on his team-mates; and the impact he has on opposition defenses is such that he can be classed as a genuine superstar of world football. Suarez a superstar? Yes, and it no longer feels like a hyperbolic soundbite.

Suarez is frightening opposition defenses. He’s butchering weak opposition and outperforming the toughest competition. He’s arrived.

An admission: I was always a fan of Suarez despite some very real concerns about inefficiencies in shot selection and pass selection. Suarez, despite some bad, just had too many good qualities to his game for me not to sold on him.

And before I am accused of jumping on any bandwagons following Suarez’s hot start to 13/14, I must mention that I was very much behind Arsenal pushing beyond the quoted £40m asking price and signing the player. I believed Suarez was worth the money then and I still believe Suarez is worth that money, and then some. 17 goals in 11 league games tends to bump valuations somewhat.

***

The main purpose of this article is to examine Luis Suarez’s hot start to the 13/14 season; how it ranks when placed against Suarez’s Liverpool career numbers; and how sustainable Suarez’s 13/14 numbers may be.

 

Liverpool Career

This is what Luis Suarez’s Liverpool career numbers look like:

  • A solid start in 10/11. Excellent shots numbers undermined by terrible conversion and scoring percentages.
  • 11/12 saw shots numbers remain at roughly the same rate per90. Scoring% ticked up a touch as did key passes per90. The goals per90 is still pretty average.
  • 12/13: explosions in the sky! Shots, SoT and key passes are all up year on year. The boost in scoring% (goals/SoT) and conversion% (goals/total shots) boosted the goals per90 number to a Liverpool career high.
  • 13/14 is other worldly. The shots per90 number looks like the bastard offspring of Messi and Ronaldo. The Shots on Target per90 number is the best 11 game sample I have ever seen as is the Goals per90. Shot volume certainly helped Suarez to score 17 in 11 games but the main drivers are those conversion and scoring% numbers.

 

Shots SoT Goals Assists KP mins Sc% SoT% Conv%
S 10/11 4.50 1.88 0.33 0.25 1.97 1099 17.39 41.82 7.27
S 11/12 4.56 1.66 0.39 0.11 2.33 2545 21.74 36.22 7.87
S 12/13 5.70 2.07 0.64 0.12 2.74 2953 30.88 36.36 11.23
S 13/14 6.20 3.37 1.55 0.36 2.92 987 45.95 54.41 25.00

 

13/14 Scoring% is historically high for Suarez’s career, but it is also high when placed against his peers’ numbers. Suarez’s scoring%, in my opinion, is not sustainable long-term.

If you’re the type of girl/guy who prefers to use all of a players’ shots in conversion stats then focus on Conv% which is, when placed against the previous 3 seasons, seems inordinately high.

So What Is Going On With Suarez’s 13/14 Numbers?

Small(ish) sample. The scoring% and conversion% numbers should both cool down over a larger sample (the rest of the season) and that will likely mean a slowing of his 326 goal pace that he is currently operating at.

But what about Suarez’s shots numbers which are out of this world? Hmmm, good question. Like most excellent forwards, Suarez is a flat-track bully who butchers weak opposition and a cursory look at the games Suarez has played this season gives us an indication of the opposition strength:

Lpool_fixt_medium

Newcastle, Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham were the tough fixtures. The remaining schedule is pretty easy. Could it be that Suarez is padding his shots numbers against teams who are clearly no match for his talent level?

The flat-track bully element to Suarez’s game, and every other good strikers game, is not meant as a criticism. Good strikers feast on weak teams and it may just be that Suarez has faced 7 or 8 teams who, for whatever reason, are pretty weak now. This is my theory, and feel free to ridicule it!

I will probably test Suarez’s performance against, say, Top 7 teams and the rest of the league when I manage to find a hour free to do so.

***

We know what Suarez’s career box numbers look like and we know that this hot start to the season looks to be a level of performance above and beyond Suarez’s career average. What I want to look at now is just how abnormal Suarez’s start to the 13/14 season is.

To look at how abnormal the hot start is I am going to look at Suarez’s Liverpool career numbers using an 11 game rolling average  so as to compare 13/14’s 11 game stretch with the other 77  11 game stretches. I want to know if Suarez has enjoyed a hot streak like this in terms of shots, conversion% or goals per90 in his Liverpool career previous to the start of the 13/14 season.

 

Shot Volume

Sua_shot_volume_medium

Shots per90 is pretty variable: 3 peaks and 3 valleys within those 76 buckets worth of 11 games. Suarez’s overall shots per90 volume is excellent.

Shots On Target per90 was fairly stable in the first 60 games at the club. Since then, the SoT per90 volume has been on the march with a notable spike in the last 30 games. I’m not particularly sure why we have seen a recent improvement in shots on target per90 volume.

 

Shots On Target% & Scoring%

Shots on target% = shots on target/total shots. Scoring%=goals/shots on target.

Sua_sot__medium

As stated previously, Suarez’s ability to get shots on target has improved recently and that improvement shows up inSoT%.

Suarez’s Scoring% (my preferred conversion stat) is not particularly stable. There doesn’t look to be any long term improvement in Suarez’s ability to convert shots on target into goals; it merely looks like a lot of noise to me. In fact, as good/”lucky” as Suarez’s scoring% (45.9%) is, Suarez has posted better 11 game spans of scoring%.

Suarez posted five spans of >46% scoring% and those spans came at the start of the 2012/13 season. In short: we have been here before with Suarez and a high scoring%.

That hot scoring% cooled off pretty sharply.

Conversion%

Conversion%=goals/total shots.

Sua_conv__medium

If you prefer to focus on a players conversion stats by using all shots that a player takes the we can look at the graph above.

A crazy barren period at the start of Suarez’s career is a mystery to me. (Liverpool fans?) But following that barren period we see that Suarez’s conversion% bobbed up and down, neither too high nor too low; no droughts or extended hots streaks and the BAM! Look at the far right hand side of the chart. That spike is completely out of keeping with the Suarez’s career rates.

Suarez’s career conversion% is 12.07%. In 13/14 Suarez’s conversion% is 25%. That 25% number is out of keeping with Suarez’s Liverpool career. It looks like an anomaly. Or, maybe there is something I am missing. Maybe Liverpool’s tactical setup, the quality of his team-mates or weak opponents have led to the spike in Suarez’s conversion%? Or it could be the amount of time Liverpool spend winning, and thrashing, their opponents?

I’d say variance with a side dish of weak opposition.

 

Goals Per90

If we add a recent spike in shots on target volume, a spike in shooting accuracy, a spike in conversion% and scoring% what do we get?  A goals per90 spike.

Goals_per90_medium

This, I believe, is the most extreme graph. After a tough start to Suarez’s career, which included that extended barren spell, Suarez numbers, with no little variance, have stayed at an elite level (buckets 32-75). What has happened in buckets 75-78 can only be described as freakish. A perfect storm, if you like.

That perfect storm was caused by:

  • The 2nd best shots per90 rate in Suarez’s Liverpool career.
  • The best SoT per90 rate in Suarez’s Liverpool career.
  • The 2nd best SoT% in Suarez’s Liverpool career.
  • The 6th best Scoring% in Suarez’s Liverpool career.
  • The best Conversion% in Suarez’s Liverpool career.

If we add all of the above together it becomes clear just how Suarez has posted 17 goals in 11 games so far this season.

If we take a guess and say that the shots volume and SoT% may have been caused in small part by some weak opponents, improved tactics and the thrashings that Liverpool have dished out, then what can we say the spike in conversion% was caused by?

Is the spike in conversion% solely caused by variance? Or is some small part of it tactical or influenced by opponent strength? I cannot be certain either way. We know shooting% regresses on a team level and may be a pretty good guess when looking at Suarez’s conversion% chart that conversion% isn’t a consistently repeatable skill from 5 games or so to the next 5 games or so.

Going forward I expect Suarez to continue to post high shot volume numbers (although they will cool off some) but I am far less certain about Suarez’s ability to maintain those conversion% numbers. If Suarez’s conversion% numbers cool that will likely mean that Suarez’s Goals per90 numbers cool also.

This wouldn’t be the end of the world. Suarez would continue to perform well, create tremendous shot volume and score at an elite clip. But regression in the conversion% means Suarez may well drop from Messi-like heights and rejoin the mere mortals.

Suarez is a brilliant player, who will deservedly win the golden boot, but I’ll stick my neck out and say that Suarez cannot maintain a conversion% that is double his Liverpool career average. The goals may slow down a little, but that’s fine.

Incredible hot streaks don’t last forever.

 

  • Bazz

    Hi! I really enjoyed your piece here. I too expect the numbers to fall away from what looks to be freakish but I do wonder if his shots have been from better areas. In previous seasons his shooting locations were not even borderline ridiculous, they were outright ridiculous. There could be any number of reasons behind this but I think teammates, position and tactics are all factors.

    In his first season, he was played centrally but had to drift wide and deep to receive the ball and had no-one to pass to in the box (with Carroll he was played off a big man which is a totally different game as Rodgers recently alluded to in an interview about off-loading Carroll). He resorted to always trying to beat people and shoot from crazy angles. Now Liverpool have wide options, who drift centrally and/or vertically when Suarez drops wide or deep. He is now more available to receive passes with Henderson making runs from deep/right, a #10 like Coutinho behind with Sturridge helping to keep defenders busy (recently Sterling) and Johnson overlapping to allow him more space and passing options, which also could explain his passing numbers improving. He has better options, more trust and better players around him. All of these are highly subjective on my part but seem to me to be valid reasons behind why he shoots in better areas (improving SOT%) or passes when there are better options (not affecting his SOT%) and also shows the upswing in his Key Passes per 90.

    Let me know what you reckon? I’ve nothing to back this up but have followed people’s articles on Suarez’s shot numbers and I know shot location was a big worry at the start that seems to have drifted this year. Colin Trainor (@colinttrainor) might be able to offer more insight on this as he is somewhat of a shot location guru!

    • Colin Trainor

      Hi Bazz,

      His shots are from much better spots than before, but he conversion rate is totally freakish and unsustainable.

      Based on locations (ExpG1), we would expect 9.5 goals, based on location and placement (ExpG2) it’s at 13.5. So IMO, the 17 goals that Suarez has scored is well beyond what his shots “deserve”. No big surprise there I guess as 25% conversion unreal

      • Sam

        Ah, thanks, Colin! That’s about what I expected. If he merely keeps up a scoring rate of a goal a game (somewhere between the ExpG1 and ExpG2) for the rest of the season, I think us Liverpool fans will still be pretty pleased!

      • Bazz

        Hi Colin,

        Yeah the guy’s been a freak but the location figures would suggest a deserved improvement than previously so that his average overall should be more sustainable even though the current form would be at the crest of the wave as it were?

        • Colin Trainor

          Yes, his locations are better than previous seasons. So I would agree with you

          • Sid

            Hi Collin!

            Do you guys by any chance plan to include ExpG numbers for teams in your articles in future? I would love to know what those numbers are for Chelsea this season.

          • Colin Trainor

            Hi Sid,

            I tend not to publish my ExpG numbers in their raw form as I use them for betting. I do certainly use some of them from time to time in my article.

    • Sam

      I was going to make this same point. I’m sure his sc% will regress, but I’d expect his conversion rate to stay significantly above his PL average 12%. For his first two seasons here (1.5 under Kenny, .5 under Rodgers), he basically was the entire attack on his own. He was both the creator and the finisher, and, as Ted pointed out over the summer, took all kinds of crazy shots, but he was often off balance and tired from having beat two or three players on his own, the kind of thing that wouldn’t even show up in shot location data. It got a little better when Rodgers, knowing he had no one else good last year, basically set up the team to be decoy for Suarez and let him have immense space, but he still had to do everything alone. Adding Sturridge and Coutinho changed things dramatically, but he didn’t actually get that many games with them last season, for a couple of reasons. This season, you all have shown that LFC have had some of the best chance quality in the league, whereas I think we were more toward the middle or even bottom last year (when we were number 2 in TSR I think but finished 7th). I’d bet Suarez particularly has been a beneficiary.

      Sunday was probably an extreme example, but he had 4 one on ones and a rebound into a semi-open net! 2 goals sounds about par for the course with those kinds of chances.

  • reader

    Having watched pretty much every game of his lfc career, I’d say Bazz is pretty accurate in terms of changing play. LFC really had trouble getting players in the box and suarez clearly didn’t trust his options either, leading to those shots in lieu of pullbacks, as well as a lot more dedicated attention from CBs. This season he’s got a lot better support as well as a solid helping of counterattacking chances due to playing ahead. He’s been 1 on the keeper in a lot of games – not just against THFC. On the other hand, he’s struggled (as has LFC generally) against a packed defense (e.g. Hull).

    The other thing is that he scores a lot of chips – is there any way to tease out shot power from your stats? I’d guess that those would show a low ExpG2 but in fact there’s no keeper to catch them. Perhaps also incorporating attacking tempo somehow could also tease out the effect of counterattacking.

  • John Frasene

    Hi,
    I agree that Suarez’s improvement may be related to the improvement of Liverpool as a whole. Rodgers has a better idea of what he wants from the squad this year, and the team is certainly playing its best since Suarez was there. While his conversion rate seems too high to continue, is it impossible to rule out that he has upped his performance to another level? At some point, Messi and Ronaldo both broke through to the level that they had threatened to for a couple of seasons- Ronaldo in 06-07 and Messi in 07-08 (that’s a guess without his stats in front of me). Age may be a factor, though. I don’t know if 26 is too late to expect that kind of improvement.

    Or, it could all be the anger management therapy this summer.

    Cheers,
    John

  • Paul Warriner

    I say we sell now! There are still plenty of clubs who won’t look too deeply into the stats and will just see the headline figure of 17 in 11.

    Sell before the regression.

  • PatrickThe Red

    Arsenal with Suarez and Liverpool with Costa, players that could’ve signed and were really missed out on.
    Liverpool could’ve had an attack boasting Suarez…Sturridge….Costa which could’ve seen Liverpool lifting the title. Arsenal could’ve had an attack with Suarez and Ozil, Wilshire and Walcott creating for Suarez which imo definitely would’ve seen Arsenal lifting the title come May.
    I think Suarez scores so many against them teams because Liverpool can dominate weaker teams and create for him, so if Suarez played in a better team like Arsenal he’d be a better player and score more against the tougher teams.

Improve Performance and Productivity in Your Club:
State-of-the-art Football Analytics