€300 million on the bench but no Suarez successor could bite Barcelona in the ass

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The Uruguayan remains his side's sole option for the No. 9 role, a heavy gamble as he fights a losing battle against the scales at 31 years old

While Real Madrid continue to mourn the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo at Santiago Bernabeu, those in charge at Camp Nou have been quietly building a super-team.

Barcelona have spent selectively and intelligently over the summer, identifying potential weak spots in their squad and recruiting accordingly to create a group of players that, on paper at least, have what it takes to fight on three fronts this season.

Even the exit of the seemingly irreplaceable Andres Iniesta has been swiftly remedied.

While no player can mirror the unique skillset of Barca's former captain and icon – a whirling dervish of a midfield dynamo and, alongside Lionel Messi, perhaps the most talented player ever to pull on the Blaugrana shirt – Ernesto Valverde and the club's transfer gurus have sent out the right signals in the current market.

The arrival of the promising Brazilian Arthur was pushed through as a long-term solution to Iniesta's absence. Rafinha was also welcomed back into the fold following a loan spell at Inter and Roma were gazumped over the transfer of Malcom, the Bordeaux hotshot snatched away at the last minute in a manoeuvre that was extremely effective, if not particularly dignified on the Catalans' part.

Even better was to come, though.

Arturo Vidal's intensity and box-to-box engine made him a natural signing for Barca, not to mention a bargain at a fee that came in at under €20 million.

Factor in Philippe Coutinho, signed last January but cup-tied from the Champions League in 2018, and it is undeniable that the club have now have a midfield better equipped to once again conquer Europe.

Malcom Coutinho comp

Clement Lenglet also enters the fray to fight for a place in a defence that essentially picks itself in front of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who has more cause than ever to show off his talents after being cruelly overlooked by Germany for this summer's World Cup.

So far, so seemingly invincible. But Barcelona do possess an Achilles heel. Amid all those riches there is not a single worthy replacement for Luis Suarez at centre-forward – a troubling weakness given the Uruguayan's startling decline over the last 12 months.

For his first three seasons at Camp Nou, the former Liverpool star held a valid claim to the title of the world's most potent No.9. No team appeared capable of resisting his aggression, intelligence and precision inside the penalty area, as he bullied his way to an incredible 121 goals in just 147 appearances.

However, in 2017-18, the cracks began to show. Suarez looked out of shape, slower and more panicked in front of goal, missing chances that in previous years would invariably finish inside the net.

Having enjoyed an almost telepathic connection with Messi, a close friend on and off the pitch, Suarez suddenly fell off the Argentine's wavelength.

That feeling of malaise became tangible in his statistics: although he still managed 31 goals over the course of Barca's double-winning season, just one of those came where it most counted, the Champions League.

The current season, too, has begun discreetly for the Uruguayan, who has drawn two blanks in as many games.

Previously, these slow starts have drawn little concern from those at Barcelona. Naturally corpulent and prone to weight gain, Suarez is famous for waltzing back into training each August with extra padding around the belly and backside, which he then strives to burn off.

It seems to be getting harder and harder to shed the pounds, though. And people are noticing.

“Luis Suarez cannot go out and play with that ass... it is worrying,” El Chiringuito journalist Quim Domenech fired upon seeing Suarez waddle through Barca's 2-1 Supercopa victory over Sevilla.

Luis Suarez

"Luis is fine," was Valverde's answer to the criticisms. "He's only just coming back from his [post-World Cup] break, so he's gradually getting up to speed, but he looks good... sometimes it’s hard for him to start but he’s in good shape.”

Barca will be hoping that Suarez's toils are indeed temporary, for despite the wealth of talent held in reserve – the Barca bench for the season opener against Alaves was worth €300m in transfer fees – the Uruguayan has no natural replacement at Camp Nou.

Paco Alcacer is the closest thing to a back-up No. 9 in the Catalans' ranks, but the ex-Valencia star has never looked comfortable at the club.

He has fallen even further down the pecking order this season, following Munir El Haddadi's return from a loan stay at Alaves, and wasn't even named among the substitutes last weekend.

All of which means that Barca find themselves in a delicate situation. 

While the squad would doubtlessly benefit from a deputy – or potential successor – to Suarez, bringing in a first-class alternative would risk the ire not just of the forward himself, but the indispensable Messi.

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While speculation that the little Argentine holds sway in the Blaugrana dressing room is usually wide of the mark, there is no doubt that any encroachment on the first-team status of his friend would be taken as an affront – not a situation Barca want to countenance while he remains at the height of his powers.

The Catalans are therefore walking a tightrope. If Suarez sheds the excess pounds and returns to his imperious best the gamble will pay off, but on the evidence of last season's Champions League that faith could prove a horrendous error in judgement from those in charge.

It is up to the Uruguayan, ultimately, to belie his 31 years and get rid of the ass that has scandalised Domenech and other observers, lest the decision turn around and bite Barcelona in exactly the same region.

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