Suarez's monster form means Barcelona won't fear Messi absence

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Luis Suarez Barcelona 2018-19
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The striker stepped up to lead his side through a decisive, Messi-less week and in turn dispelled doubts over his ability to continue at the top level

The rumours of Luis Suarez's demise have been greatly exaggerated. 

At the start of the current season it appeared to many, including this writer, that Father Time had finally caught up with Barcelona's Uruguayan hitman. Suarez looked out of touch and off the pace chasing shadows, as he struggled to shed the excess pounds he habitually picks up in the off-season. 

But three sterling performances in the space of a week for his club – including a Clasico masterclass to put an end to Julen Lopetegui's disastrous Real Madrid reign – proved that Suarez still belongs among the world's elite strikers even as he approaches his 32nd year. 

Suarez is a notoriously slow starter. It takes the forward time to shake off the effects of his summer holidays, meaning that the opening games of each Barcelona campaign usually find him sleepwalking through matches. 

This term has been no different. It took Suarez over 300 minutes to break his goal drought in 2018-19 before he netted two in an 8-2 rout of Huesca, and he went to record an entire, exasperating month without troubling the scoreboard between September 15 and October 20.

Even when he was hitting the net, the feeling was that Barca fans were seeing a pale imitation of their barnstorming forward hero. 

The Uruguayan was spurning chances he would usually finish with glee, failing to keep up with Barca's dynamic play, even missing connections with his great friend Lionel Messi that we tend to take for granted.

Ironic, then, that it took an injury to Messi to finally prompt his strike partner to step up a gear and show he is far from finished.

The Camp Nou faithful were treated to a seven-day festival of football in their famous old stadium, with victories against Sevilla, Inter and Madrid yielding 11 goals and dispelling the doubts that surrounded the Catalans after a lukewarm opening to the season.

Cartoon Suarez horror show 10 29 18

Having been so dependent on Messi at the beginning of this term, a broken arm for the Argentine wizard was greeted with something akin to an apocalyptic mood around Camp Nou. But there may just be life without Messi after all, if the evidence of the past week is enough to go by.

Suarez was in the thick of things, as he loves to be. The ex-Liverpool man scored four goals and assisted three more, the perfect response to those nagging doubts that he no longer had the legs to step up and make himself counted in Messi's absence. 

He has been ably assisted in this renaissance, though, and that is what offers Barca most hope of a bright future after Messi and Suarez.

While the latter earned the penalty that marked his first goal in Sunday's 5-1 drubbing of Madrid by drawing a clumsy foul from Raphael Varane, his two subsequent strikes were laid on a plate by the wonderful Sergi Roberto, who ran the Merengue ragged from an attacking right-back position.

Brazilian duo Arthur and Philippe Coutinho have also rejuvenated the Barca engine room with their quiet quality, ensuring a steady supply of possession for the sole striker in Ernesto Valverde's Messi-less formation.

But Suarez's resurgence is a massive short-term boost for Barca. With his off-season slump now well and truly behind him, he is again hungry for the ball, getting himself in the position to hurt defences. 

Perhaps that sharpness in front of the net that has characterised him throughout his sparkling career is still lacking somewhat. Against Sevilla, Suarez scored once from a total of seven attempts, while the Inter game saw him draw a blank despite shooting eight times – the only black mark on an otherwise fantastic all-round display. 

Luis Suarez Messi Barcelona PS

But he is on the right track, needing just five efforts to put three past the badly exposed Thibaut Courtois at the weekend. And one thing is clear: if at first he does not succeed, Suarez will keep plugging away until he finds the target.

"Luis is anxious in a good way, he needs goals," coach Valverde signalled at the start of October, when it appeared that Suarez could not buy a goal for love nor money. "We want him to feel that way because he feeds off that anxiety and that feeds us in turn. 

"The more chances he misses, the better it is for us. Luis is a key part of our team."

Valverde's faith in the forward has paid off handsomely as Suarez and Barcelona as a whole have steadied the ship with three huge results that could mark a turning point in their season. 

Of course, there is no replacement for Messi in the Barca ranks. Suarez recognised as much in his post-Clasico euphoria: "Of course we need him. Having the best player in the world is a plus. 

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"Nevertheless, we have shown that we are a great team with a great trainer and that is vital for the club."

The captain will be back towards the end of November, and everyone connected with Barca are eagerly ticking off the days on their calendars.

But if Suarez continues the incredible form glimpsed in the last week and carries on putting defences to the sword, Messi's absence will be just that little bit more tolerable for the Liga leaders.