The striker has been the key figure in Liverpool’s rampant march to the top of the Premier League, dazzling fans with a series of all-action, goal-laden performances
Vilified in the English media, Luis Suarez was not a realistic candidate for the Player of the Year award last season. He scored 23 Premier League goals and provided 11 assists in a swashbuckling Liverpool team, but saw his chances evaporate when he decided to bite a chunk out of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic’s arm. A hefty 10-game suspension imposed by the FA followed, as did national disgust.
Yet here he is, just under 12 months later, the darling of the Kop. He has been scoring for fun, has taken on greater responsibility for the team and has firmly established himself as one of – if not the best – out-and-out strikers in Europe. Put simply, no other player can win the award this season. Liverpool are on the verge of ending a 24-year wait for a league title, and it is mainly down to Suarez.
Many pre-season predictions saw the Reds labelled as top four contenders, but little more. Sir Alex Ferguson even claimed in his autobiography that eight signings were needed to turn the club he ‘knocked off their perch’ into title contenders once again, while he also criticised the appointment of Brendan Rodgers. It is not the only thing he has got wrong recently.
This season, Rodgers’ side have swept every challenger aside with the kind of attacking abandon usually reserved for an all-star basketball side.
Manchester City scored two on Merseyside. No matter, as Liverpool scored three. The same happened at Norwich. It is catching, infectious and it fills Liverpool supporters and neutrals with glee. The ‘we’re going to score one more than you’ mantra is back and Suarez is the embodiment of the motto.
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In a simply staggering season he has hit 30 goals and laid on 21 more, despite missing the opening six matches. In 30 games, he has scored a goal every 89.8 minutes.
He also has six braces to his name and three hat-tricks – racked up against Norwich, Cardiff and West Brom – while he has created 80 chances on his own.
No other player in the Premier League comes close. He doesn’t just deserve the Player of the Year award; he may just be in with a shout for the Ballon d’Or next season if he can keep this up. Yet Liverpool are not a one-man team.
He has been aided by the superb displays of Sturridge, who has 20 goals and nine assists of his own, and Young Player of the Year nominee Raheem Sterling, who looks to have booked his seat on the plane to Brazil with his electric displays this term.
But it is Suarez who is the undisputed star of the champions-elect. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet acknowledged as much earlier this week.
“To score 30 league goals in a season is amazing,” he told the Liverpool Echo.
“Everybody knows what Luis can do and the goals he contributes to the team are very important for us.
“He doesn’t surprise me anymore. I see him every day in training.
“It’s not an accident, it’s not luck, the reason he has scored so many goals is down to his ability. He is so good and we’re very pleased to have him.”
Arsenal are a club who know all too well what Suarez can do, having launched an ultimately doomed bid for the Uruguayan in the summer, in the midst of uncertainty over his future. A widely ridiculed bid worth £1 over £40 million was submitted and snubbed, despite it triggering a clause of sorts in his contract.
In the immediate aftermath of the offer, Suarez even gave interviews in which he publicly declared his desire to swap Anfield for the Emirates. Yet the club stood firm and Suarez was eventually persuaded to sign a four-and-a-half year deal in December.
Upon penning the contract, he told the BBC: “I believe I can achieve the ambitions of winning trophies and playing at the very highest level with Liverpool. My aim is to help get us there as quickly as possible.”
Such has been his desire to guide the Merseysiders’ to the league summit, he has become a reformed man.
It appears he has learned from his previous misdemeanours; he was also banned after being found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra and has been caught up in various diving storms. For his country, he was cast as the villain of the 2010 World Cup, having denied Ghana a semi-final spot by deliberately palming a goal-bound header away in injury time and then celebrating when the subsequent penalty was missed.
Yet, despite a pantomime fall and miracle recovery against Norwich last weekend, he is now leading Liverpool like the role model he should always have been.
He has picked up just five yellow cards in his 30 appearances this term – half of his total last season – and he is taking greater responsibility defensively. Indeed, he has made three goal-saving blocks this term, and has also won 40.12 per cent of all of his duels.
Suarez, it would appear, is the complete striker. Of his 30 goals, 20 have come with his right foot, seven with his left, and three with his head. One of the latter, against West Brom, came from outside the box and left Boaz Myhill grasping at air as he dived full-length in a vain attempt to keep it from hitting the top corner.
Of those goals, three have come from a free-kick but, staggeringly, he has not scored from the spot, with Steven Gerrard the designated penalty taker at Anfield.
Suarez’s captain is also nominated for this award. Indeed, it would be quite the fairytale were Gerrard to finally end his Premier League trophy drought and win the top individual prize in England in the same year. But, for the latter, he would be better off deferring to the Uruguayan.
He has come a long way in 12 months, and there is simply no-one better than Suarez currently playing in England.