By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – The La Liga season may only be a week old but Barcelona forward Luis Suarez is showing similar worrying signs of the struggles he faced at the start of the last campaign, which may prove a stumbling block to his side’s hopes of retaining their title.
On Saturday, the champions visit Real Valladolid, who are back in the top flight after a four-year absence and pulled off a surprise victory in their last game against Barca to derail the Catalans’ title bid in 2014.
Barca recorded a 3-0 home win over Alaves in their opening game of the campaign but the scoreline flattered Ernesto Valverde’s side, who needed an enterprising Lionel Messi free kick to break the deadlock midway through the second half.
Before the Argentine struck, Barca had looked relatively toothless in attack, getting forward frequently through French forward Ousmane Dembele and a deep-lying Messi, but lacking the power and aggression which Suarez is renowned for.
The Uruguayan struggled to dovetail with his strike partners and his only positive contribution of note was a cross for Messi to chest down and score the final goal in stoppage time.
That limp performance followed a sluggish display from Suarez in the Spanish Super Cup 2-1 win over Sevilla, and came after a World Cup where he largely underperformed despite Uruguay reaching the quarter-finals.
Although Suarez has plenty of time to strike back, his struggles are reminiscent of his tardy start to last season, when he only scored three goals in 14 games for his club in all competitions and went five matches without finding the net.
Last year’s troubles could be put down to the player rushing back too soon from a knee injury to help Uruguay qualify for the World Cup, and his form dramatically improved in November after a two-week rest.
Valverde insisted he had no concerns over Suarez’s form.
“Last year he received criticism at the start because he struggled to score goals but once he started he didn’t stop,” the coach said of the 31-year-old Suarez.
“He always guarantees you fight and competitiveness, it’s just a matter of patience and persevering.”
The Uruguayan’s terrible scoring record in the Champions League, however, may point to an overall decline.
Suarez scored only once in 10 European games last season and three times in nine outings the previous campaign, his struggle a symptom of the team’s failure to get beyond the quarter-finals in Europe’s elite competition since winning it in 2015.
Should the Uruguayan fail to put in a strong performance against Valladolid, who drew 0-0 with Girona in their first game back in the top flight, those concerns will only grow.
Elsewhere in La Liga this weekend, Atletico Madrid host Rayo Vallecano after drawing 1-1 with Valencia in their opening game, while Real Madrid visit Girona, where they suffered a shock 2-1 defeat last season.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by John O’Brien)