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With Luis Suárez, Messi may not even be the best player on his own team

April 4th, 2024

He is 37, carries a visible paunch and is nursing chronic knee pain that requires regular injections. But old Luis Suárez still looks a lot like the Luis Suárez of old.

Since linking up with former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi at Inter Miami, Suárez has scored seven goals and provided five assists across 10 appearances in MLS and the Concacaf Champions Cup. He has already shown that he still possesses a wide and devastating arsenal of scoring techniques, too – there’s been a set-piece header against New York City FC, a rampaging solo effort versus Orlando City, a deft left-footed chip against DC United and a few tap-ins plundered thanks to wily penalty-box movement.

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The Uruguayan didn’t quite hit the ground running in Miami. A pair of sluggish, goalless displays in his first two games for Inter drew criticism, with many observers questioning whether the club co-owned by David Beckham had made a mistake in signing a player of Suárez’s age and injury history.

But such doubts were soon eradicated. In his third appearance, Suárez produced a vintage performance to inspire Miami to the biggest victory in the club’s short history as they hammered Orlando City 5-0. He scored twice in the first 11 minutes at Chase Stadium, delivering two ruthlessly clinical finishes. And he could easily have had a hat-trick within half an hour, but, through on goal, he chose to unselfishly square the ball for Robert Taylor to score.

A second Suárez assist arrived in the 62nd minute and it was the clearest sign yet of how the veteran striker’s technical mastery remains fully intact, as he measured a sumptuous, outside-of-the-boot cross from the right flank directly on to Messi’s head.

“I am very happy for him, that he was able to score,” Messi said of Suárez’s showing in the Florida derby. “We were still calm. We know what Luis is and what he is capable of doing and everyone knows it. He is like that. When you least expect it, he solves a game for you as he did today with the goals, with the assists.”

Suárez was voted the best player in Brazil last year after 26 goals and 17 assists for Grêmio, including a hat-trick on his debut. He could be in the running for similar accolades in the US if his form holds. And the key to his continued effectiveness, it appears, is an acceptance – from player and club – that he needs to pick his spots.

There are long moments of inactivity within games when Suárez will plod around the centre of the pitch, at times with a distinct limp. Then, suddenly, he will spring into decisive action in the attacking third of the pitch – a flash of pace to evade a defender; a rapid one-two to burst into the penalty area; a rasping finish from an impossible angle.

He is not asked to start every game, either, with Inter manager Tata Martino affording him rest amid a hectic schedule.

“One of the coach’s tasks is to convince the players when to stop, when to allow themselves a break,” Martino said after Suárez came off the bench and scored twice to inspire a 3-1 victory over DC United in March. “Luis had played the previous game; he understood that it was a good possibility to come in as a refresher.

“With Luis, this is a similar situation to Leo [Messi], Busi [Sergio Busquets], Jordi [Alba]. It is something he has done throughout his career. We had talked that he was going to have half an hour and he defined the game for us. For us, he is a fundamental actor.”

He has been fundamental, too, in carrying the Herons through a recent injury crisis. Not only has Messi missed games with a hamstring injury, but key midfielder Federico Redondo has also been forced to sit on the sidelines, along with several others.

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Inter have struggled without Messi, a period headlined by a 4-0 thumping at the hands of the New York Red Bulls. But without Suárez, Miami’s results could have been much worse – from his aforementioned game-winning cameo against DC United to scoring again in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with New York City FC. “[Messi is] a player that makes a difference, we know it,” Suárez said this week. “If he’s there, we’ll enjoy it more. But we have a big team and we have a lot of really good players that can replace the others.”

Messi is the reigning Fifa Best award winner, but there is now a reasonable debate to be had over whether he is even the best player on his own team this season.

Fortunately for Inter Miami, they don’t have to choose between Messi and Suárez: they have both — except for a potentially tricky period in June and July when the pair are set to be on international duty at the Copa América. And with them, Inter have every chance of adding to the Leagues Cup they won last year as they seek to retain that title while also hunting the Supporters’ Shield, the MLS Cup and the Concacaf Champions Cup.

“The best word we players have to have is to dream: dreaming big,” Suárez said in a press conference to officially unveil him as an Inter Miami player ahead of the 2024 season. “To dream is to want to win. Why not dream of winning the four titles?”

It’s been nine years since Suárez – alongside Messi and Neymar – spearheaded Barcelona’s own domestic and continental clean sweep in 2015. His ambition, it seems, is undiminished. He ability to change games as either scorer or creator hasn’t changed all that much either.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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