Why Chelsea must stop Suarez to progress revealed.
Luis Suarez was supposed to be winding down in Major League Soccer right about now.
Instead, he is the poster boy for Atletico Madrid’s title challenge.
El Pistolero has 16 league goals for the LaLiga table-toppers but has yet to open his account for Atleti in the Champions League.
The former Liverpool ace heads into the first leg of the last-16 clash against Chelsea tonight with seven goals in his last seven outings — meaning the Blues must stop the 34-year-old striker at all costs if they are to stand any chance of progressing.
But the question remains, how can they do that?
Give Atletico the ball
It might seem foreign to Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel, whose game plan is built around possession, but allowing the hosts to have more of the ball could restrict them.
The LaLiga leaders average roughly 51% of the ball this season and are generally at their best when they are allowed to break. Their speed in transition often results in Suarez having a tap-in from inside the six-yard box.
Chelsea average almost 65% possession in the Premier League under their new manager.
Even though tonight’s game is not taking place at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium due to coronavius restrictions, Tuchel’s side could be picked apart on the break if they go to the National Arena in Bucharest looking to dominate.
Control the space
Tuchel cannot afford to park the bus — but he should aim to dominate the space.
Atletico are at their best during transitional moments. As soon as they are able to counter, they flood forward.
And it is during this chaos that Suarez thrives.
So by controlling where Simeone’s side can attack, you go some way to limiting how potent they can be.
Stop the supply to the No9
Suarez has the ability to create something out of nothing but the frequency with which he does it is waning.
In this Atleti team, he is there to finish off moves. Before the weekend, the Uruguayan had scored his 16 LaLiga goals from just 27 shots on target — that is ruthlessly efficient.
If Chelsea are able to stop the ball reaching him, the ex-Liverpool favourite will be a spectator, which is something Cesar Azpilicueta is well aware of.
The Blues skipper said: “The best way to defend against him is to keep him as far as possible from the goal and that’s a collective job.
“We know his numbers and we know he has scored lots of goals wherever he has played, so we have to try to defend against him together and keep all their attacking players away from our goal.”
Atletico’s No9 is famed for his off-the-ball aggression. At his best, Suarez was a constant, tireless nuisance.
And Tuchel was quick to praise the forward’s mentality ahead of this evening’s showdown.
The German, 47, said: “He has the certain mentality that only strikers have.
“This mentality to show his will, intensity and anger to score and score and score and is never satisfied.
“What a mentality! What a player!”
Chelsea must turn the hunter into the hunted by pressing him relentlessly. To put it simply, they cannot let Suarez be Suarez.
He is always loose in possession, only completing around 70% of his passes, but Suarez is still an adept dribbler and has attempted 16 in his last four outings.
If necessary, Chelsea must double up and look to frustrate him.
Do not forget about the supporting cast
It has gone under the radar but Atletico have assembled an impressive squad.
Joao Felix is one of the most exciting talents in world football and Moussa Dembele is one of the most underrated finishers in Europe.
Simeone also has Thomas Lemar, Yannick Carrasco, Angel Correa and Marcos Llorente at his disposal — and they can all do serious damage.
Focus too much on Suarez and he will clean up in the aftermath of what his team-mates can do.s