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.
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.
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: 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.
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. 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%=goals/total shots. 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.
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. 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.