Forget Griezmann & Braithwaite: 4 exciting talents that can fill Suarez’s void at Barcelona
To say that Barcelona have made some questionable decisions in the transfer market would be a huge understatement if anything. Still, selling Luis Suárez was arguably the right choice to do. However, selling Suárez to direct La Liga rivals in Atletico Madrid while not securing a proper replacement for the Uruguayan is something they shouldn’t have done.
But they did and now, they’re paying the price. Not only is Suárez tearing the competition apart but the Catalans also don’t have a player who can replicate his output and fill in the void left by his departure despite them getting Antoine Griezmanna and Martin Braithwaite in.
With that being said, for this data analysis, we’ve decided to use TotalFootballAnalysis’ exclusive tool called xGOLD to find players similar to the Uruguayan. The said players were then scouted to see whether the eye-test can confirm what the data had initially suggested.
Note that we’ve set no limit when it comes to leagues but have only picked U23 strikers who have played at least 400 minutes of football in 2020/21 and whose profile matches that of Suárez the most for the most accurate analysis possible.
Before delving into the data, let’s first establish his profile.
Identifying the profile
Suárez has a very unique profile when it comes to strikers. Since he is getting older, you cannot truly say he’s a modern no.9 because he can’t cover so much of the pitch anymore, but he’s also so much more than a traditional centre-forward.
Of course, despite his age, the Uruguayan is as deadly as they come and has even registered career-high figures in terms of his output. Currently, Suárez is in the race for the Pichichi in La Liga and is even outperforming his xG per 90 values.
Below, you can see his full player profile with the statistics being compared to the rest of the league’s strikers.
When it comes to attacking & creativity, not many can match his output, as can be seen from some of the key metrics visualised here. A player who’s hoping to replicate that has to be an elite finisher while also being extremely efficient in front of goal.
Since he’s lost a lot of speed and agility, Suárez is not a proficient dribbler anymore but his sheer presence in the box is a huge weapon for the Rojiblancos. However, despite there being some deficiencies, we can still say that creativity is not one of them.
When it comes to expected assists, key passes and even progression data, the Uruguayan is above-average here as well, courtesy of his movement across the pitch. Looking at the heatmap, this thesis is confirmed as he likes to drop deep and drift wide when it benefits the team the most.
Defensively, he’s quite limited and at Barcelona, he was often exempt of all and any responsibilities. While Diego Simeone won’t tolerate that, Suárez’s defensive statistics are still below par compared to the rest of the league’s strikers.
With that out of the way, let’s finally meet the contestants.
Donyell Malen, PSV, 22
Donyell Malen is a name most are familiar with despite him being only 22 years of age. The young player is naturally a striker but possesses enough skill and pace to competently slot into the wider areas as well. Still, his player profile can definitely be described as a centre-forward and a very proficient one at that.
Looking at the data in the graph down below, we can see what his main strengths and weaknesses are. Malen is extremely lethal in front of goal and almost cracks the 10% of strikers in the league when it comes non-penalty goals and xG while also topping the charts in shots per 90, dribbles per 90 and touches in the box per 90.
But it’s his link-up play that makes him such an interesting profile in the first place. Looking at the statistics from the viz above, we can see he excels in creation and is a big presence in PSV’ build-up play as well.
Essentially all key categories put him among at least the top 20% of all strikers in the league, and even close to the top 10% in key passes and smart passes. When it comes to his defensive contribution, it’s quite limited but still it does seem he works for the team when needed.
With a slight caveat of him tallying a very low number of defensive duels, he does seem to win them often and the data puts him in the above-average category for possession-adjusted interceptions, albeit only marginally.
Finally, let’s compare Malen’s output to that of Suárez.
It does seem the 22-year-old ace can hold his own against the Uruguayan veteran but can’t quite match his lethality in front of goal. Suárez edges him out in non-penalty goals per 90, goal conversion and shots per 90 while also tallying slightly higher xA numbers as well.
Still, that is to be expected after all. However, Malen’s xG per 90, xG per shot and shots on target % indicate he already has an elite sense for positioning and movement, seeing how he generally shoots from better positions and hits the target more regularly.
With his passing also generally suggesting Malen is more involved in the build-up, this could be a great fit for Barcelona’s style of play.
The 22-year-old ranked third in xGOLD’s list of player profiles that match Suárez’s.
Patson Daka, RB Salzburg, 22
Another young talent who’s destined for greatness is RB Salzburg’s Patson Daka. Of course, Salzburg themselves are famous for producing top talent and the 22-year-old striker is another one who’s likely to continue the tradition.
Daka is an elite finisher and a striker graced with an excellent sense of positioning, anticipation and movement in general. When we look at the data in the graph below, we can immediately see what he excels at.
The 22-year-old striker is one of the very few young players who’s managed to consistently overperform his expected goals values in recent years and he ranks in the very top in both non-penalty goals per 90 and xG per 90. Interestingly, he is also a volume shooter but a very efficient one at that.
Looking at the statistics, he registers a lot of touches in the box and generally shoots from high-quality positions within the opposition’s penalty area. This, combined with great movement and runs to exploit space and dismark himself, makes him a great option to replace Suárez.
Daka’s link-up play is also commendable, albeit not on the elite level just yet. He is very creative and can create chances from the wider areas, as also suggested by high key passes and smart passes statistics as well as his heatmap. The 22-year-old also seems like a decently hard-working player in the defensive phase as well.
But how does he compare to El Pistolero himself?
Again, it’s difficult to edge out Suárez in pure efficiency as the Uruguayan’s non-penalty goals and goal conversion are still slightly higher than Daka’s but the 22-year-old has a very well-rounded profile too.
He offers quite a presence in the box while also registering more precise shots than Suárez and from overall better positions, tallying a higher chance of rattling the net per attempt so far. Suárez is still a better creator overall as his high xA figures suggest but Daka is still a slightly better progressor despite passing and build-up not being his bread and butter at all.
Overall, the youngster ranks fifth in xGOLD’s list of player profiles that match Suárez’s.
Odsonne Édouard, Celtic, 23
The next player on our four-man list in this data analysis is Celtic’s Odsonne Édouard, a 23-year-old prolific striker. Just like the other names, the Frenchman has a very well-rounded profile that combines lethality in the box and good technical abilities that make him a valuable asset in the build-up/ creation phase as well.
Seeing how Suárez is someone who contributes to all phases of play, with the defensive phase being a slight exception, this fits perfectly. Let’s look at the data below to get more insight in Édouard’s profile.
You can immediately see from the data that Édouard is very prolific in front of goal. However, it should also be noted that he’s been underperforming his xG to non-penalty goals per 90 ratio but seeing how both metrics are very high, it’s not a big issue.
Generally, his goal conversion seems lower despite him shooting from great positions and tallying high expected goals values per goal attempt. But to compensate for that, the Frenchman participates in the build-up a lot. Looking at his passing and progression data, not many strikers in Scotland can go toe to toe with the young prodigy.
It’s particularly interesting to see the high xA statistics and key passes, which is something Suárez excels at as well so the profiles do match nicely on paper. Comparing the two in the radar below, we can see that there’s a lot of overlap apart from the sheet effectiveness in front of goal.
It does seem like the 23-year-old Celtic star still needs to work on his finishing because despite always finding the right positions to occupy and registering very high xG per attempt, his conversion percentage and non-penalty goals per 90 are not as high as they could or even should be.
But Édouard is one of the few who can outshine his Uruguayan counterpart in the pure creation metrics, tallying higher xA per 90 and passes into the penalty area. This indicates that his overall involvement in both the build-up and setting up his teammates is excellent and this is crucial for a good El Pistolero replacement.
The 22-year-old ranks fourth in xGOLD’s list of player profiles that match Suárez’s.
Alexander Isak, Real Sociedad, 21
The final pick in our data analysis is Alexander Isak of Real Sociedad. The 21-year-old striker is the youngest on the list but also the only one currently playing in La Liga, which is obviously Barcelona’s most familiar market to exploit.
Still, it’s not just these two things that make Isak a good option for the Catalans. Looking at the statistics below, we can see the makings of a really good centre-forward, albeit currently not as dominant in Spain as other options are in their respective leagues.
Of course, the difference in level between all the leagues in contention here has to be noted but Isak is still on a steady upward spiral. According to the data, he is slightly underperforming his expected goals values and has to work on his positioning and finishing but overall, the young forward is starting to tick all the right boxes.
Isak shoots more often than most La Liga strikers and he also records a higher number of touches in the box, further proving his presence in the danger areas is enormous. Looking at the build-up numbers, they are also decent across the board although you can also see he’s not the main creator in the team.
Real Sociedad have plenty of creative outlets that send the ball into the 21-year-old and while he can drop deeper to assist the progression and occupy the half-spaces, he is more effective the higher up the pitch he is. This is a slight regression from Suárez’s profile but for such a young forward playing in a tough league, it’s already starting to become quite impressive.
Let’s compare him to the Uruguayan next.
Interestingly, Isak registers higher xG per 90, xG per shot and more shots on target, however, his conversion is still lower than that of Suárez. And while he records more touches in the box and more passes into the penalty area, we can clearly see he is not as much of a creative outlet as the Uruguayan.
But with constant improvement and considering he is the youngest player on this four-man list, it’s reasonable to believe he can improve as time goes on. The fact he is an important part of a competitive La Real team is proof enough there is potential and ability there at this point already.
In terms of xGOLD, Isak ranks second on the list of player profiles that match Suárez’s.
It’s important to note that we deliberately chose players around the age of 21 and 22 because a club of Barcelona’s size would benefit from a striker who’s got some experience and is close to hitting his peak years. Buying someone too young would likely result in the said player struggling to hit the ground running, which is exactly what the Catalans need.
Each of these players would surely need some time to adjust but they are still well-rounded profiles capable of providing results immediately.