By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
More than a friendly. Luis Suarez saw his four-month ban for biting upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Thursday but was cleared to play in non-competitive games and will therefore make his Barcelona bow alongside Lionel Messi against Leon on Monday night.
With the Suarez sanction running until October 25, the next time that those two line up together could well be in the Clasico clash that takes place that weekend against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. There can surely be no greater game in which a player could make a club debut.
But with Suarez now cleared to play in friendlies, Monday's Gamper Trophy meeting with Mexican outfit Leon will also see the Uruguayan in action, although he only began training for the Catalan club on Friday and is unlikely to feature for the full 90 minutes.
"Luis Suarez will play some minutes in the Gamper tomorrow," Luis Enrique told reporters on Sunday. "During two training sessions he's already shown he is really talented. He looks like the player we were looking for."
Former Barca centre-back Rafa Marquez (playing his last game for Leon ahead of a summer switch to Hellas Verona) is the other attraction in Monday's match but Blaugrana fans will be much more excited to get a glimpse of Suarez, Messi and Neymar (now recovered from the fractured vertebra suffered in the World Cup) all together in what is quite possibly the world's most formidable forward line.
How it works could hold the key to the side's success under Luis Enrique. In years gone by, Messi has been very much the main man for Barca, with the other forwards sometimes struggling to shine in the same side as the Argentine, forced to sacrifice their natural game in order to make hay for the world's finest footballer.
Strikers have not always found it easy to operate alongside Messi, either. Zlatan Ibrahimovic found himself on the bench and later left after former coach Pep Guardiola opted to field the Argentine in a central role. Later, David Villa formed an excellent understanding with the four-time Ballon d'Or winner in 2010-11 but the two subsequently fell out and rarely played together after the former Spain striker suffered a broken leg the following season.
The Asturian's departure to join Atletico in the summer of 2013 saw Barca begin last season without a recognised centre forward in their squad and coach Gerardo Martino had hoped to bring in a No.9. That never happened and Tata left the club in June after ending the season with only one trophy - the Spanish Supercopa. And in a clear change of direction, Barca have now not only signed a striker but, in Suarez, they have bought the very best one around.
But Luis Enrique says that Messi's movements will not be altered in order to accommodate Suarez. "Leo has so many options that we can't close off any to him," the Barca boss explained. "He will have total freedom to move in attacking situations. He is the best in the world, without a doubt, and we will adapt to his movements."
Barca had hoped that Suarez's ban for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup would be scrapped but club officials are encouraged at least that the player can now train - and thereby form an understanding with his new team-mates - and appear in friendly games.
Barca plan to organise more friendlies over the next couple of months to allow Suarez to taste more first-team action but how he ultimately gels with Messi (either on the right of a 4-3-3 formation or up front in a 3-5-2 or 3-2-3-2) could ultimately hold the key to the side's success in 2014-15.
"I'm so happy to feel like a footballer again and to be with my team-mates," Suarez told Barca's official website on Friday. "I was so keen to get started."
Monday's game is Luis Enrique's debut as coach at Camp Nou and will see Suarez kitted out in Blaugrana for the first time, joined by both Neymar and Messi, as well as a number of new signings. It is a glimpse into the future for the Catalan club and also preparation for a Clasico. So it really is much more than a friendly.
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