By David Lynch
It is hard to believe that Manchester City might covet anything that Liverpool currently possess, despite the Reds’ illustrious and oft-referenced honours list.
City have a Premier League title, a lucrative modern ground, a transfer kitty which dwarves their domestic rivals’ and one of the most well-stocked squads in European football. And yet, when they host Brendan Rodgers’s men on Sunday afternoon, they will know that three points are far from certain – largely thanks to the presence of Luis Suarez amongst the opposition.
Even during their 23-year league title drought, the Merseyside club have always seemed to boast at least one world-class striker amongst their ranks. This season, Suarez has proved that he is no different to the likes of Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Fernando Torres in that regard, by putting in a string of inspirational performances and plundering 17 Premier League goals.
|SUAREZ’S & CITY STRIKERS’ GOALS
DZEKO (Man City)
AGUERO (Man City)
TEVEZ (Man City)
Unfortunately, all this has come for a wildly inconsistent team whose challenge for a Champions League spot has failed to truly spark. For that reason, City could be forgiven for looking on longingly at the Uruguayan’s contributions and opining that they would be of more use at a club with title aspirations, such as themselves.
Roberto Mancini’s side could certainly do with the help. They find themselves 10 points adrift of rivals Manchester United at the top and, most tellingly, five points short of their own total last season after the same amount of games.
The reasons for this are clear, with City having posted four more draws and one fewer loss than last season at the expense of three wins. The champions may have defended just as impressively as during the opening 24 games of the 2011-12 campaign, having conceded just 19 goals, but the absence of 18 goals in the ‘For’ column in comparison is indicative of the root of their decline.
Under normal circumstances, such season-to-season fluctuations might not matter. But, when your biggest rivals have added the Premier League’s deadliest marksman and, by virtue of that, five points to their own tally, then the ramifications are clear.
Of course, United’s improvement is not the sole cause for this swing, with the idea that City have been somewhat ‘worked out’ this season becoming increasingly plausible. Put frankly, the champions can occasionally look predictable, are too often caught playing the game at right-angles and could be accused of adhering to an overly formulaic structure.
These are the sorts of adjectives which could never correctly be applied to Suarez, a player who embodies spark, ingenuity and other such exciting superlatives when he steps across the white line. That he has attempted over two-and-a-half times more dribbles (188) than City’s most prolific ball-carrier, Sergio Aguero, (70) perfectly indicates the individual brilliance that the 26-year-old brings to the table.
And Liverpool fans know better than most that the forward’s barely believable mastery of the art of the nutmeg is not just showy inefficiency. Allying this to a clear-cut-chance conversion rate of 54 per cent whilst creating 10 such chances so far this season – a pair of statistics that are unmatched by his City counterparts – is proof of the substance which underpins the style.
To have done all of this whilst playing in a team who, with respect, boast less talent among their ranks than those clubs fighting for the title is truly remarkable. And, whilst it may not boost Suarez’s chances of winning any Player of the Season awards at the end of the campaign (his controversial personality may prove enough to rule out that notion) it is certain to keep his stock high amongst managers, like Mancini, who may be on the prowl for a striker come the summer.
That said, on Sunday at least, City will hope not to be given a reminder of that on which they are currently missing out.
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