The Comeback King: Suarez makes his long-awaited return for Liverpool against United on Wednesday.
Liverpool finally welcome back mercurial front man Luis Suarez into their starting XI against Manchester United on Wednesday after the Uruguayan’s 10-match ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic at Anfield in April. However, the scary thought for opposition defences around the country is that the attacker can still get even better than he currently is.
Last season, the 26-year-old was one of the standout performers in the Premier League, with Suarez netting a highly impressive 30 goals in total in just 44 matches in all competitions for the Merseyside giants, including an equally eye-catching 23 strikes in only 33 top-flight encounters.
And now as the Reds prepare to take on archrivals United in a Capital One Cup third-round clash at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, optimism has soared on Merseyside that Suarez’s long-awaited comeback will coincide with a return to winning ways for Brendan Rodgers’ side.
However, in spite of undoubtedly having his best season for the club last time out, on the pitch at least, there are still a number of ways in which the world-class Suarez can improve.
Since first arriving at Anfield from Eredivisie giants Ajax in January 2011, Suarez has managed to find the back of the net on 51 occasions in total in just 96 matches in all competitions for Liverpool, including 38 strikes in only 77 Premier League outings for the club.
So in effect, the front man has a strike rate of a goal every 1.9 games for the Reds, which in anyone’s book is an excellent scoring ratio for a striker, especially one that is new to a league.
However, some critics have pointed out that last season was the exception to the rule as far as Suarez’s two-and-a-half-year career in England is concerned, with the forward managing to net just 21 times in 52 contests in his first campaign-and-a-half on Merseyside.
And anyone who watched Suarez in action in his first 18 months at the club would have to recognise that the attacker’s finishing would often be the weakest part of his game, especially when faced with one-on-one situations with an opposition goalkeeper, for some perplexing reason.
Now, there is no doubt whatsoever that Liverpool’s star man more than made up for those early blemishes in front of goal by improving vastly on his shooting accuracy in the previous campaign.
But if Suarez is to elevate his standing on Planet Football to an even higher level and join the ranks of fellow forwards such as Monaco’s Radamel Falcao, Manchester United’s Robin van Persie and Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani, then this is definitely an area of his game that the Uruguayan needs to work on.
One-man team: Suarez goes on another of his mazy dribbles.
As befits a mercurial attacker, Suarez has often been accused of not being a team player in the two-and-a-half seasons that he has been at Liverpool, and often with good reason too.
In fact, there have been many an occasion when Suarez has decided to go on one of his typical mazy solo dribbles through a backtracking opposition rearguard, before ending up down the proverbial blind alley, with exasperated teammates left waiting for the pass that never came.
Equally, however, there have also been a number of times when a Suarez solo run has climaxed either with the playmaker capping off the move himself with a fine finish or with a clever pass for a better-placed teammate to score.
But let’s be honest: Those last two situations are actually few and far between, as El Pistolero almost always prefers to go it alone when he has the ball at his feet, a relative weakness in his game that Brendan Rodgers has been working hard to eradicate since he arrived at Anfield last summer.
And in fairness to the Northern Irishman, on the evidence of the previous campaign, Rodgers seems to have had some success in this regard.
When you have a world-class talent such as Suarez, the one thing you absolutely want to ensure as a manager is making sure you get the maximum amount of playing time from your star man as possible.
Consequently, the very last thing that you want is to see your most important and influential player missing games through needless suspensions.
Sure, anyone can pick up a yellow card here or there during the course of a season, even a sending-off in certain circumstances, but what is criminal is to be absent due to bans accrued from pointless bookings for back-chatting to referees, say, or waving imaginary yellow cards in the direction of an assistant ref.
The 26-year-old would be an even more devastating performer were he able to be on the pitch at all times.
Although, I am not too sure that anyone has ever told that to Suarez, who always appears to be trying to create just that when in action.
And in fairness to the forward, many times in his Reds career already he has come pretty close to pulling that feat off, whether faced with impossible angles, such as at the Stadium of Light in March 2011, incredible distances, like at Carrow Road in April 2012 or, with imposing obstacles, as against Manchester United at Anfield in March 2011 (see above).
However, there is always more than one way to skin a cat, and it is important for Suarez to remember that a goal is a goal, no matter how the ball ends up in the net.
And so better surely to at least score a goal than fail trying to create the perfect one, as Arsenal have often been accused of in the past under manager Arsene Wenger.
It would not be incorrect to say that Suarez has endured his fair share of controversial incidents since moving to England two-and-a-half seasons ago, whether they be on the pitch or off the field of play.
From his eight-game ban in November 2011 for allegedly racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, and the subsequent fallout from that incident in his later meetings with both the France international and the Red Devils, to his most recent 10-match suspension for biting Chelsea full-back Branislav Ivanovic on the arm at Anfield in April.
And that is before we even begin to mention the constant debate surrounding Suarez’s supposed “diving” that has taken place in this country following his arrival on Merseyside in January 2011 (see above).
Now, Suarez and many experts in the game will argue strongly that if you take this aspect out of the Uruguay attacker’s game, then he will become half the player he currently is.
Equally though, from a purely practical point of view, there is no doubt that Suarez and his team have been badly harmed by his actions, and in the case of his so-called fondness for “simulation,” the player is actually getting penalised as referees now simply refuse to award the Reds spot kicks for even the most blatant of penalty-box infringements.
So perhaps Suarez should take a long hard look at himself in the mirror before he makes his long-awaited comeback at Old Trafford on Wednesday night and consider that in actual fact, by keeping his head down, his mouth shut and just getting on with what he does best, he would be doing both himself and his teammates a huge favour.