It’s not crazy to believe that Luis Suarez is the best striker of his generation. It’s also not crazy to believe Joao Felix is the biggest prospect in world football right now.
So when the two joined forces at Atletico Madrid this summer, it wasn’t crazy to see expectations around Europe rise drastically.
Suarez’s debut only helped to lift those expectations when he came off the bench half-fit and got two goals and an assist in the club’s 6-1 win over Granada in La Liga. Felix started that game and came away with a goal and assist himself too, but they weren’t on the pitch together at any point.
Prior to Wednesday’s 3-2 win over over Salzburg, Felix and Suarez had started three games together and Atletico had failed to score a goal each time. Some fans criticised the performances of Felix, while Suarez was clearly still not in optimal condition to make a big enough difference.
However, the Champions League tie against Salzburg seemed to trigger something in their partnership. Felix was in top form, scoring twice and hitting the crossbar with a stunning bicycle kick attempt while Suarez was his usual menacing self.
Between the pair of them they managed 95 touches, eight dribbles, 56 passes and ten shots on goal. While Suarez didn’t get on the scoresheet or register an assist, his mere presence was enough to give Felix the platform he needed to shine and that could be a sign of things to come.
When Felix joined Atletico in the summer of 2019 for a club record €126m immediately the pressure was on. In a season plagued with injuries and adaptation to an entirely new system, he struggled.
The Portuguese forward scored nine goals and got two assists in 32 appearances across all competitions but it was the manner of his performances that drew criticism online and in the stands. With his small stature, he struggled physically and it was clear he wasn’t entirely happy with the style of football Diego Simeone adopts.
This year, with the arrival of Suarez, the pressure is off. The Uruguayan national team’s all-time top scorer has taken on the mantle of being the main man in attack for Los Rojiblancos and it will be he who will be in the eyes of the media and fans.
Felix should now be allowed to adopt the role he prefers most, just off the striker and linking the midfield and attack together. It will see him get on the ball more often, be able to dribble more as he did at Benfica and also see less value placed on his goals and assists compared to when he was the outright striker last year.
Off the pitch too, Suarez could prove to be a mentor of some sorts to the youngster. Felix is 20 years old and only just entering the third full season of his professional career. He has a long time to improve and reach the full potential he so clearly has.
Suarez has been through it all in football. He’s won all the trophies, he’s scored in all the big games and he’s played for the biggest clubs. He also had a similar style to that of Felix when he was younger. His ability to play between the lines and link everything together was on show best during his Liverpool days, before he became more ruthless in front of goal at Barcelona alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar.
If Atleti want to get the best out of their prodigy, the partnership between these two will undoubtedly need to blossom. Suarez doesn’t have much longer at the top level and Felix is ready to explode into the stratosphere of superstardom.
Should Simeone link the two players together and a partnership be created, we could see something special in the red half of Madrid in 2021.