No matter how large the arsenal, every powder keg will need a spark. Brendan Rodgers has amassed some impressive firepower, firepower that is indeed capable of getting back into the Top Four. But he will need the flint to start it. Luis Suarez is that ignitor. Some might say "agitator" is a more apt description.
Whether his name is uttered with bitterness or affection, no fan can deny that the Luis Suarez was one of the reasons Liverpool stayed above the mid-table mark on the English Premier League log last season.
As capable of a solo act as Suarez was, however, it was the addition of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho that provided the catalyst for Liverpool's transformation into a team able to contend for a return to European competition.
According to ESPN FC’s “Monthly Summary” ranking, in the first five months of the season Liverpool averaged a little over ninth (9.2). In the last five, it was sub-fifth (4.8).
And many would point out that while the sidelined striker sat the first four games of his suspension, a Suarez-less Liverpool won three out of four games, scoring 10 times while conceding once.
Which surely begs the question—just how great is the need for Luis Suarez next season?
It is a question that Andrew Beasley addressed in his blog Bass Tuned to Red. He does a remarkable job of analyzing the Uruguayan’s influence when he is present or absent for the Reds. He finishes by stating:
“But perhaps it’s time to stop thinking Liverpool are a better side without Luis Suarez. It’s far from being that clear-cut.”
Statistics will tell their own story, and they do. He ranked second worst per game in both turnovers (2.4) and being dispossessed (2.8); but the influence of the positives in the offensive categories are too many to simply ignore.
WhoScored rates him second (behind Gareth Bale) in average match rating (7.89). His 23 goals in 33 games was second to Manchester United’s Robin van Persie (26). No one took more shots per game (5.7), and his key passes statistic (the final pass leading to a shot at goal from a teammate) of 2.7 per game put him in the top three in the EPL.
And that is what tracked. “Showing up for every single game when many on your squad don’t” isn’t a statistical category. But it should be.
The thing about those oft-mentioned “X-factors” is that no one can quite tell you exactly what they are—but everyone can point to them being absent when they’re missing. And that is what Liverpool will point to should he go: their X-factor.
Yes, £50 million can buy many other strikers, but not many strikers like Luis Suarez. When talking about the Uruguayan in an interview for the official Liverpool website, Steven Gerrard said this of the No.7:
The players in the Premier League are lucky they only have to test themselves against him twice a season.They should be very glad of that because he's running rings around us every day all year round. We have to put up with it every day.Even when you are 3-0 up, he's the same. It's kids in the street stuff. He's the same every day in training.
There is no “off” switch on a Luis Suarez once he’s taken the pitch. And there is certainly no "mute" button. His doggedness and determination borders on the maniacal when he plays. For anyone. It’s just who he is. When no one else can or will make something happen, Luis will.
Maintaining that Suarez’s inclusion in the Reds’ squad this season is rubber-stamping Liverpool’s place in the Top Four is a grand statement. But it's one that must be made.
And should he stay, it is a statement that will bear some scrutiny in the first six fixtures of Liverpool’s 2013/14 campaign. With Luis Suarez missing those matches through suspension, the proof will be in the pudding. Six games sans Suarez will undoubtedly prove how integral El Pistolero is to Liverpool’s Top Four hopes.