Liverpool will come face-to-face with Luis Suarez on Saturday for the first time since the scorer of 82 goals in just 133 appearances in his time at Anfield left for Barcelona two years ago. Suarez’s former side will take on his current club in a showcase friendly at Wembley, in a match that wraps up both clubs’ International Champions Cup campaigns.
The focus will undoubtedly fall on one man. While he spent only three-and-a-half years at Anfield, Suarez, despite courting controversy on multiple occasions, established himself as a firm fan favorite and one of the greatest players in the club’s history. He showed his affinity for the club, too, notably shedding tears as Liverpool’s thrilling charge toward the Premier League title in 2014 fell painfully short at the last.
“Everybody knows Liverpool is so important in my life, in my career, and my family as well,” Suarez told Liverpool’s official website. “My second child was born there and I had a really good moment there. I think it’s a nice moment for me.
“It’s a really nice moment for the supporters. I have some friends there and I think it’s a really good moment to come back to play against Liverpool.”
Suarez’s departure for Barcelona two years ago left a massive void that Liverpool is still attempting to fill. Certainly, the club no longer possesses a player of the Uruguayan’s caliber. Yet under Jurgen Klopp, as he has made clear throughout talk of his summer transfer business, the focus is not on individual stars but on the team ethic.
There were certainly encouraging signs after Klopp took the reins last season, notably in a run to the Europa League final. But it was also clear that the squad needed work. Klopp has attempted to reshape his roster over the summer, with Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, Loris Karius and defensive duo Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan all arriving.
It remains to be seen whether that will be sufficient to earn Liverpool a return to the Champions League, but Suarez believes his former club can have a successful season.
“They had a chance to win the Europa League and in the Premier League they played really well,” he said. “Now it’s a new season, I think the manager [will] have confidence they can finish in the top four.”
Liverpool, which will also take on Klopp’s former team Mainz on Sunday ahead of the start of the Premier League season next weekend, had a mixed time in a three-game tour of the United States. Defeats to Chelsea and Roma bookended a 2-0 win over Milan. Klopp also suffered the blow of new goalkeeper Karius suffering an injury that rules him out of the opening weeks of the season. On the positive front, he will welcome back Matip and midfielder Marko Grujic for the match with Barcelona after both recovered from injury.
Barcelona, meanwhile, which will have one more friendly against Sampdoria next Wednesday before taking on Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup, has so far gone through preseason with a 100 percent record. After a 3-1 win over Celtic in Dublin, Suarez was on the scoresheet in a 4-2 triumph over Premier League champions Leicester City in Sweden on Wednesday. Off the pitch, the summer has been less successful for the Spanish champions.
The club has been desperately chasing a striker to back up Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar, but face going into the season without the void being filled. Instead, Barcelona’s biggest signing so far has been Portuguese midfielder Andre Gomes from Valencia. Still, veteran midfielder Andres Iniesta, who Gomes may well have been earmarked to eventually replace, thinks the new arrivals will improve the squad as Barcelona attempts to retain the Primera Division title and regain the Champions League crown.
“The players that have arrived are of a very high level and are young, and being at Barça will help the team grow even more,” he said in a press conference. “What we all want is for Barça to become stronger, and that is why we need new players with quality”.
Neither Gomes nor fellow new arrival French defender Samuel Umtiti will feature on Saturday, having gone all the way to the final of Euro 2016. Neymar will also be absent as he attempts to win Olympic gold for Brazil.
Kickoff Time: 12.15 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN, ESPN Deportes
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