By David Lynch at Anfield
Speculation, they say, can unsettle a player. But to Luis Suarez, a man so oblivious to minor concerns such as the opposition’s attempts to tackle him or the boos of fans up and down the country, such gossip is simply fuel to take him to greater heights.
Following a week in which his desire to remain at Liverpool had been questioned amidst reported interest from Manchester City, the Uruguayan provided his first-ever league double at Anfield and plenty more besides. He tormented the Wigan defence with customarily winding runs and evidenced the cutting edge which has propelled him to the top of the Premier League scoring charts this season.
The 25-year-old’s two goals mean that he is now, in fact, just one shy of equalling his league tally for the entirety of last season, a statistic which proves that he has added the goals which critics argued his impressive skillset lacked. Put simply, talk of wasteful finishing must now be abandoned – his manager, Brendan Rodgers, was entirely correct to describe him as “a master marksman” after the game.
The presence of mind shown to drop deep for the first strike is a ploy so often utilised by penalty-box predators and his finish high into the net matched such description. His second was the type scored only by in-form strikers, as he eschewed a second touch in order to poke beautifully beyond the onrushing Ali Al Habsi.
That effort took his Liverpool career statistics to 34 goals in 68 games overall, perfectly straddling the one in two ratio with which we are so often told that the top strikers align. In fairness, little more proof was needed of that fact when Reds captain Steven Gerrard recently acclaimed Suarez as the best striker with whom he had played during his illustrious 14-year career at the club.
The context of that assertion was clear ahead of a clash with Chelsea; the Huyton-raised midfielder knew that his statement would pierce the heart of former Liverpool forward Fernando Torres. But Suarez proved at Stamford Bridge that it was more than just a petty dig, as he scored yet again whilst Torres was substituted following another anonymous showing.
The Merseyside club will be keen to further underline the difference between the pair should they be tempted by a big-money bid for Suarez’s services in January. In isolation, Torres’ sale can be looked at as a fabulous piece of business from a club who had got the best from him, even if a large part of the returns were wasted on Andy Carroll.
But selling the former Ajax man now could never be deemed as adroit. He is the most in-form forward in England and the key to making Liverpool’s transitional period shorter than it perhaps ought to be. In fact, should he continue dragging his side along almost single-handedly, then more astute purchases in January could see the Anfield side really flying.
Despite being keen to acknowledge the contributions of Raheem Sterling, who continues to underline his credentials as one of the country’s hottest talents, and Jose Enrique, who is enjoying something of a renaissance as a winger, Rodgers remains keen for attacking additions. After the game, he told reporters: “We know it’s going to be very difficult this season in terms of transitioning the group but we’ll get some support in and, the players that we’ve got, we’ll work with them and see where it takes us.”
But he now also knows that he is no longer searching for the classic No.9 who we were so often told that the Reds lacked since Torres’ departure. The Northern Irishman must take much credit for that, after deploying his No.7 as a ‘false nine’; that the striker has realised his destructive potential under Rodgers’ tutelage is no mere coincidence.
Of course, ever since the summer transfer window ended disastrously for Liverpool, it has seemed wise to temper all praise and criticism with the caveat that they are an incomplete squad. Rodgers once likened managing a football team to building an aircraft whilst it is flying and, in failing to sign a new forward, the club’s owners denied him wings.
But, should Suarez continue to keep his side in touch with the high-fliers, then the heights that Liverpool could reach when that oversight is fixed are limitless.
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