Lionel Messi was left all alone. With Neymar departed in a big-money move to Paris Saint-Germain, summer signing Ousmane Dembele taking time to settle and then injured and Luis Suarez off form, it was down to the Argentine to provide the spark and score the goals for Barcelona.
Suarez was there, but not really there. Chances came and went for the Uruguayan and Barca fans grew frustrated as very few of those ended up in the back of the net – just three in 14 matches to be precise.
A knee injury in the opening league game against Betis had hindered his progress, while he probably returned too quickly as well in his eagerness to help Uruguay seal qualification for this summer’s World Cup.
In the meantime, the departure of Neymar probably hit Suarez the hardest, while the former Liverpool striker was also forced to adapt to a new position and formation following the arrival of Ernesto Valverde as coach.
His first coach at Uruguayan club Nacional, Martin Lasarte, told Goal that he believed the striker would be back to his best before long, while Valverde also backed his player. “The more he misses, the better!” he said in October. “The important thing is he is getting into the right positions. The goals will come.”
And they have. Suarez’s hat-trick in Barca’s 6-1 win over Girona at Camp Nou on Saturday means he has now netted 20 in his last 22 games for the Catalan club, including doubles against Leganes, Deportivo La Coruna, Real Sociedad and Betis.
It is a scoring streak that has helped Barca advance to the final of the Copa del Rey for the fourth season in a row, while keeping up their unbeaten run in La Liga, which now stands at 25 matches.
Now in his fourth season at Camp Nou, Suarez surpassed the 100-goal mark in La Liga recently too and has 144 in 183 in all competitions since signing from Liverpool in the summer of 2014.
A treble winner in his debut campaign under Luis Enrique in 2014-15, the Uruguayan’s return to form will give Barca hope of another triple triumph this time as Valverde’s side challenge on three fronts.
Curiously, Suarez has yet to convert in the Champions League this season, despite featuring in all seven games for the Blaugrana so far in the competition. However, he is confident Barca can advance after Messi’s goal sealed a 1-1 draw at Chelsea in the teams’ last-16 first leg in London last week.
“It was a beneficial goal for the second leg to have more space at the Camp Nou,” Suarez said. “Our strength is being better at home, that’s why it was important to score. Now they have to try to score at the Camp Nou and we’ll have more space.”
So too will Suarez and on current form, that spells danger for Chelsea, even though goals have been harder to come by for the Uruguayan in Europe this term.
Asked on Twitter on Sunday who he thought was the world’s best striker at the moment, former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville said Suarez.
It is a far cry from his early-season struggles and Neville is right: on this form, there is no finer centre-forward than Barca’s brilliant No. 9. And alongside an inspired Messi, the 31-year-old now looks ready to make more history at Camp Nou this season.