By Richard Martin
(Reuters) – Barcelona’s Luis Suarez can expect a hostile reception from Manchester United fans in Wednesday’s Champions League clash but that will be nothing new for the fiery Uruguayan.
Suarez, who joined Barca in 2014 from United’s fierce rivals Liverpool, has 20 goals in La Liga this season, trailing only team mate and close friend Lionel Messi in the scoring charts.
His time in England was similarly prolific but punctuated with incidents that left a sour taste.
United will know all about the threat Suarez poses on the pitch when they host Barca in the quarter-final first leg, but also the ugly aspect of his game which sometimes rears its head.
The Uruguayan inspired Liverpool to a 3-1 win over United in 2011, but his behaviour in the same fixture the following season garnered a lot more attention.
Suarez was found guilty following an FA investigation of racially abusing United’s then defender Frenchman Patrice Evra and hit with an eight-game ban, although he denied the charge.
That incident tarnished Suarez’s time in England, in which he also got a lengthy suspension for biting Chelsea’s Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic and was repeatedly accused of diving.
In Spain, his combative playing style has rarely endeared him to opposing fans but Barca defender Gerard Pique believes he remains vital to the Catalans.
“There are many players that when they are on your team they are indispensable and when they are your opponents you hate them, and Luis is like that,” Pique said ahead of Wednesday’s game.
“Having Luis with us is incredible, he gives you so many things. He scores goals, he provides assists, he defends, he creates space for his team mates. He is a fundamental piece of our team.”
Remarkably, Suarez has not scored away from home in the Champions League since September 2015, yet he tends to thrive in intimidating situations like the one that is bound to await him at Old Trafford.
He struck a superb goal to break the deadlock against Atletico Madrid in Saturday’s tense Liga title showdown, curling a shot into the far corner and becoming the first player all season to beat Atleti keeper Jan Oblak from outside the area.
In his previous outing at Villarreal, Suarez scored deep in stoppage time to rescue a 4-4 draw, while in February he struck twice in a 3-0 win at Barca’s eternal rivals Real Madrid.
Suarez was also decisive in his first trip back to England after leaving Liverpool for Barca, netting twice in a 2-1 win at Manchester City in the Champions League in 2015.
United fans gave their former player Angel di Maria a fiery reception when he returned in February with Paris St Germain yet it inspired the Argentine to star in his side’s 2-0 win.
The sight of Suarez is likely to ignite far more fire among United fans but they should beware of awakening a player who seemingly relishes the feeling that it is him against the world.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)