It took plenty of time for Liverpool to recover from selling Luis Suarez, but as the former Reds star faces his old team, he'll go up against a unit that has more than replaced his prolific level of production.

By 90Min
April 30, 2019

There is an obscene amount of narrative surrounding Wednesday's Champions League semifinal first leg between Barcelona and Liverpool, and much of it surrounds Luis Suarez.

The man who scored 82 goals in 133 games for the Reds helped Barcelona knock out Liverpool's historic rival Manchester United on the club's way to the semifinals. 

As he prepares to face off against his former employers for the first time since leaving in 2014, the full-circle vibe around the upcoming clash is amplified even further when you remember that he was the man, more than anyone, who was responsible for Liverpool's last real Premier League title challenge.

With Jurgen Klopp's side firing on all cylinders domestically and in Europe, however, it does finally seem as though Suarez's time at Anfield is a distant memory. His departure may have once rocked the boat and arguably cost Brendan Rodgers his job, but with all the goals and controversies that have come in between, and the complete rebuild Liverpool has since undergone, the club finds itself deep into a different era. 

Indeed, in Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool has finally found the formula to replace Luis Suarez's attacking mojo. But it has been a long time coming. Trace Liverpool's path since Suarez's departure:


A rough spell

Following the 2013/14 season in which Suarez and his partner-in-crime Daniel Sturridge hit 56 Premier League goals between them, the Uruguayan wasn't a happy man. Despite his best efforts, his team still threw the league title over the course of the last three games, and having been involved in the latest pair in a long string of controversies, he wanted out. Liverpool, having seen enough of his antics, decided to sell. 

Laurence Griffiths/GettyImages

Given the bad press that surrounded him at the time, his departure from Anfield was a bittersweet one, but his absence was certainly felt. Rodgers was given the following season to try and rebuild and rediscover the form that came so close to firing them to the title, but failed dramatically, largely thanks to his futile efforts to replace his front-man. 

Over the next 16 months or so, Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Christian Benteke were all given cracks at being the next Suarez, but when none of them worked and a sixth-place finish followed another underwhelming start to the 2015/16 campaign, Klopp came in to replace him. 

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In the long run, that summer transfer window didn't prove to be a complete failure, however. Roberto Firmino, James Milner and Joe Gomez all joined before Rodgers' swansong season, and all would prove to be important building blocks going forward. 


Moving forward 

Fast forward to summer 2016, and Klopp started to figure out how to get goals out of his side on a consistent basis. 

Most notably, this is when the decision was made to play instead with an attacking unit, with goals spread across the front line, rather than with a single focal point. This shift away from the system of old saw Firmino and new signing Sadio Mane spend much of the season flanking either Divock Origi or Sturridge (when he was fit), and though neither quite became a talismanic presence, each hit double figures. The Reds scored 15 goals more in the Premier League than they did in the previous season. 

Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

This step back toward their attacking best provided Champions League football yet again, with a top-four finish secured on the last day of the season, and by this point, a clear identity starting to emerge. They now had a reputation for pressing high and playing at a blistering pace, and with the feel-good factor back at Anfield, things would only get better. 


Salah, the final piece to the puzzle

It's not strictly true that Salah was the eventual 'replacement' for Suarez that summer. The only real parallel between the two was the fact that they scored obscene amounts of goals, but just having another prolific goalscorer to rely on did take Liverpool to another level and severed the residual ties to the Rodgers era. 

Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Salah, Mane and Firmino–now playing in a central role–created an attacking force that truly rivaled what Liverpool had boasted three years earlier, and no longer lacking in world-class attackers, things went from strength to strength.

A total of 44 goals in 52 games for Salah over the course of the season fired Liverpool to a Champions League final, with Firmino and Mane netting a modest 47 between them, and the blueprint for the future of Liverpool's attack was written in stone. 

FRANCISCO LEONG/GettyImages

They haven't been too bad this season, either. Though not quite hitting the same levels–with the focus shifting from gung-ho attack to a more efficient, balanced approach–the trio has shared 65 goals since the start of this campaign. 


Looking Ahead

Throw in a world class center back (Virgil van Dijk) and one of the best goalkeepers on the planet (Alisson), and here we are. Suarez, written into the past by Liverpool's recent successes, prepares to remind his former side exactly what it has missed over the last five years. 

Sending Suarez, another former Red in Philippe Coutinho, Lionel Messi & Co. packing would be the perfect symbolic gesture to cap things off, but regardless of how things play out over the next week or so, Liverpool will still be glad of the changes that the Uruguayan's departure instigated–even if he has scored a preposterous amount of goals for Barcelona. 

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