Despite conceding a late equaliser to Galician outfit Celta de Vigo, Altéti remain five points clear of Real Madrid (with two games in hand) and eight points above Barcelona (with one game in hand) at the top of the table.
And the role that the veteran Uruguayan striker has played in the Madrid club’s bid to win its first league title since the 2013/14 season is undisputed.
Luis Suárez Continues Dream Start With Atlético Madrid
Making Every Shot Count for Atléti
After reportedly being told in a 30-second phone conversation with Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman that he was surplus to requirements at the Nou Camp, El Pistolero has scored 16 goals in his first 17 La Liga matches, with only 20 shots on target.
Suárez has arrived at the total faster than any other player in their debut season with a Liga team in the twenty-first century, beating out Cristiano Ronaldo’s previous record from the 2009/10 season by one game.
According to data from Opta, Suárez has won more points for his team with his goals than anyone else in Europe’s top five leagues, earning 12 points from his 16 goals. These include ten of the last 19 points that the team has accumulated.
His brace against Celta also puts him level with Luis Aragonés as the seventeenth top scorer in La Liga history with 160 goals. Aragonés achieved the feat in 360 matches, while Suárez required only 208.
For those fans hardwired to seek out patterns, the story is beginning to feel familiar. Back in the 2013/14 campaign, key goals from David Villa – who had swapped Barcelona for Altéti the summer before – helped Los Rojiblancos to their first title in 18 years.
However, Villa’s departure from Barcelona did not have nearly the same impact that Suárez’s has. After all, Villa moved to make way for Alexis Sánchez, who scored 19 goals in La Liga that year and finished fourth in line for the Pichichi trophy.
Barcelona Suffer From Sellers Remorse
Unlike that campaign, in which Barcelona finished just three points behind Atléti, this year they have suffered without a traditional centre forward. Neither Antoine Griezmann nor Martin Braithwaite has been able to fill the role the way Suárez did, seamlessly linking up with club talisman Lionel Messi, while also scoring an average of nearly 25 goals per season in six campaigns at the Nou Camp.
While Suárez is averaging 0.94 goals per game in La Liga this time around, Braithwaite has scored just twice in 18 matches and Griezmann has not done much better, with only six goals in 20.
Barcelona’s failure to find a replacement for Suárez has grown increasingly apparent, while the decision to allow him to go to a direct rival was criticised from all sides.
“Barça made a mistake with Luis Suárez. One would have to ask why this decision was made,” said Diego Forlán, the former Rojiblanco star and teammate of Suárez on the Uruguayan national team. “Even someone who does not know about football knows that he is a [still a good] player and it was logical that he would do well at Atlético. He makes a difference.”