The race for the Pichichi in 2015/16 will always be remembered as a classic, not least because of the phenomenal attacking talent on display at that time.
But the story of this season was Luis Suárez’s late surge to steal the award from Cristiano Ronaldo, when it had seemed destined to end up in the hands of the Madeiran, who would have been only the fourth player to win the Pichichi three times in a row.
Coming at the tail end of a fearsome run of winning totals, Suárez took the award with 40 goals in 35 league appearances, leaving Ronaldo and Barça teammate Leo Messi in his wake. It was the fifth time in six seasons that the winner scored 40 or more goals, and the Uruguayan ended the six-year duopoly of those two iconic scorers.
It was also El Pistolero’s most prolific season in Spain, and shattered his own personal record set in the Eredivisie with Ajax – 35 goals in 33 appearances in 2009/10. Counting assists too, Suárez’s 56 direct goal contributions eclipsed the 43 he registered at Liverpool in 2013/14, widely appreciated as one of the greatest individual campaigns in the Premier League era.
But perhaps even more remarkable was the relentless climax to the season which saw Suárez catch Ronaldo and then leave him for dust. After 33 rounds of matches, Ronaldo was odds-on for the trophy having scored 31 goals, including five against Espanyol and four against Celta. And Messi? Well, this campaign was one characterised by niggling injuries, with the Argentine missing a number of league matches as a result. At this stage, he had registered only 23, and was miles behind.
So too was Suárez, sitting on 26. He had enjoyed a purple patch in the run-up to Christmas, scoring 10 goals in seven matches, and then another run of seven in five in the new year. The highlight was the 6-1 win against Celta. Suárez was involved in five of the six goals, scoring a hat-trick and assisting two more. The hat-trick goal itself went down in folklore. Messi won a penalty and was set to take it, before passing the penalty to his right where Suárez slotted it home. The devastating duo showed Thierry Henry and Robert Pires how it should be done.
But then Suárez suffered a barren run at the worst possible time, scoring just once in six appearances in the spring, leading up to Matchday 33. This negatively impacted the team, as Luis Enrique’s side lost three in a row and suffered defeat in the Champions League, surrendering their European crown at the quarter-final stage with Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid progressing at their expense. Barça’s season was threatening to unravel. The treble-winners from 2015 were out of Europe and had almost blown their lead in La Liga.
Taking all of this into account, the Pichichi race seemed inconsequential and as good as over. Trailing Ronaldo by five goals with only five rounds left, and with Suárez going through that lean patch, it seemed certain that no one would be catching the Madrid marksman. But that is when it all changed. That is when Suárez turbocharged. El Pistolero turned gunslinger extraordinario.
First up, he scored back-to-back pokers, consecutive four-goal hauls in the space of four days – first at Riazor, in Barcelona’s crushing 8-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruña, before repeating the feat at Camp Nou in the similarly emphatic 6-0 thrashing of Sporting Gijón. In the game at Riazor, Suárez encapsulated everything about his form. Not only did he score the four goals, all classic finishes, but he assisted three more: one for Ivan Rakitić, one for Messi and one for Neymar. Seven direct goal involvements in one game, as rare as it was magnificent.
Luis Suarez's game by numbers vs. Deportivo:
92% pass acc.
5 shots on target
Back with a bang. pic.twitter.com/7FjiYnh1au
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 21, 2016
Meanwhile, Ronaldo fired a blank against Villarreal before missing the next two league matches. Suárez had surged past the Portuguese and he wasn’t done yet.
It is worth remembering that, at this stage, Barcelona and Real Madrid were still regarded as the best two teams in the world. Enrique’s side had amazed and entertained with the MSN trident striking fear into every defender, swatting teams aside for fun, while Los Blancos were rebuilding under Zinedine Zidane and would go on to win the first of their three-peat Champions League titles. The title race was relentless, with just one point separating the two sides, and Atleti were in contention too. Any further slip-ups would have proved fatal, ending any hopes of getting over the line.
While Ronaldo finished the season strongly with back-to-back braces to keep Real Madrid right on the coat-tails of the Catalans, Suárez continued his freak run. He notched one at the Benito Villamarín to seal an important 2-0 win over Real Betis, and then hit two in the Catalan derby against Espanyol.
Luis Suárez's final five games of the 2015/16 LaLiga season:
⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️ vs. Deportivo
⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️ vs. Sporting Gijón
⚽️ vs. Real Betis
⚽️⚽️ vs. Espnayol
⚽️⚽️⚽️ vs. Granada
That's how he broke the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly. 😅 https://t.co/lHcsZFzkVC
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 20, 2021
Going into the final day, Barça had a slender one-point lead over their arch-rivals. They knew they had to win, nothing else would be good enough, barring an unlikely turn of events. Zidane’s men had a trip to Riazor, with Dépor safe and nothing but pride to play for. Barça were away to Granada who had clinched survival the week before. Madrid played their part, winning 2-0 ahead of their Champions League final in Milan. Barça too settled any nerves with a strong performance, Suárez scoring a first-half brace to give them control. The crowning moment was a fitting one. Messi played the ball between the lines, splitting the Granada defence, Neymar waited for the keeper to advance before teeing up Suárez for his hat-trick, his fourth treble of the league season, not counting those two pokers.
The Uruguayan had struck 14 goals in five matches to scintillatingly spearhead his side to the title. His contribution that season was simply breathtaking, as he finished five goals clear of Ronaldo – a ten-goal swing in five games. His tally of 40 was enough to win him the European Golden Shoe as well, for the second in his career. But it is that late surge and the tsunami of goals which will live on forever.