The Liverpool and Uruguay striker has endured a stunning season but is half-fit and would struggle to reach peak form were he to be named in Oscar Tabarez's starting XIRaheem Sterling summed up the mood of a nation on Tuesday. As England prepare to face Uruguay in their crunch Group D clash, his short statement said what many are thinking. “I'd rather not see him on the pitch,” he mused. “We know he can score some spectacular goals.”
The “him” in question? Luis Suarez. Battling to recover from a knee injury which required surgery, the Liverpool striker is likely to be fit to face Roy Hodgson's men, having been an unused substitute in the shock 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica.
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Certainly, Suarez is a world-class striker but would it really be better for England if he didn't play?
Edinson Cavani, scorer of Uruguay's goal against Costa Rica, can often be shunted out wide to accommodate Suarez – much like Wayne Rooney was against Italy, with Hodgson choosing to optimise the attacking talents of Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.
Yet Cavani was impressive despite the loss at Estadio Castelao. Of all the players on the pitch, he took the most shots – four – with two hitting the target and his penalty slapping the back of the net.
Of 22 passes, 17 found their target, while his one take-on was outside the box and led to a goalscoring opportunity. In short, Cavani is at his best through the middle.
Partnered with Diego Forlan, Uruguay perhaps lacked the mobility and guile that comes with Suarez but Forlan is a more selfless striker. Indeed, the former Manchester United man often dropped deep in order to supplement the threat of Cavani, and completed 83 per cent of his passes, with one key pass played.
Having Suarez back would see Uruguay lose the balanced forward play provided by the aforementioned duo, though his staggering goalscoring threat is likely to see Tabarez select him nonetheless.
Having scored 31 Premier League goals in 2013-14 – and provided a further 21 assists – Suarez has the ability to strike fear into opponents simply by lining up opposite them. However, Gary Cahill seems to have a handle on the 27-year-old. In his one game against the Uruguayan in the Premier League, Chelsea won 2-1, with Martin Skrtel the man on the scoresheet for Liverpool. Suarez was successfully shackled and failed to impact the game as he so usually does.
Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines, though, have been bitten twice by this particularly dangerous rattlesnake, Suarez having scored in both Merseyside derbies this season.
Yet that was a Suarez at his peak. Indeed, the striker scored a goal every 95 minutes last season and created 87 chances for his team-mates, including assists.
Right now, though, he is not fully fit. Despite his public statements that he feels ready to play, Tabarez's decision to not even ask him to warm up during the Costa Rica defeat – with Uruguay chasing the game – spoke volumes.
Should he gamble, England can be confident that they can limit the danger posed by a half-fit Suarez. Despite mistakes in the back-line against Italy, Glen Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka and Baines are likely to be confident of shackling the striker in his current state, despite his undoubted ability.
Should Tabarez be conservative, however, and opt for the 4-4-2 formation he began with against Costa Rica – with Forlan and Cavani up front – England will have more to deal with. Forlan's preference to drop deep and operate between the lines often opens up space for his team-mates, with Cristian Rodriguez, Abel Hernandez and Christian Stuani all given licence to bomb on in the attacking third.
Of course, Suarez's assist tally shows that he can provide goals too but he rarely foregoes the chance to shoot. With his absence, Uruguay are also likely to be unburdened of the desire to pass to one man constantly.
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England couldn't cope with the combined threats of Matteo Darmian and Antonio Candreva down their left flank against Italy, with Mario Balotelli's goal coming from a cross after Baines had been sold a quite delicious dummy. Without Suarez, Uruguay would spread the play out – 62% of their attacks came down the flanks against Costa Rica. With England weakest at full-back, Suarez pulling the ball into the middle would likely be a blessing in disguise.
As such, England fans should be careful what they wish for. A start for Suarez may just give England a greater chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds.