Liverpool FC: 5 Players Who Need to Step Up Following Luis Suarez's Racism Ban
Suarez will continue playing until an appeal is heard, but Liverpool still face the very likely possibility that their talismanic striker will be kept off the pitch for an extended period of time.
With this reality firmly in view, it is time to plan for the future, and that future begins with this question: Who will step up in the absence of Suarez?
This season, Liverpool have been overwhelmingly reliant on Luis Suarez. He has bagged numerous game-winners and game-clinchers for the Reds this season, and the Reds have won nine out of 10 games in all competitions in which Suarez has scored (drawing the other).
But now, Liverpool will need to look elsewhere for the magic necessary to overcome opponents.
Here are five players who most need to step up their performances to compensate for the absence of Luis Suarez.
5. Stewart Downing
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Despite Kenny Dalglish's continued support of his under-fire left winger, there's no denying that Stewart Downing's performance has been below par this season, especially considering his significant transfer fee.
In 16 league appearances, Stewart Downing has yet to contribute with a single goal or assist. Contrast that with his form at Aston Villa last season, where at this point of the season Downing already had a respectable five goals and two assists to his name.
Admittedly, Downing's lack of assists isn't completely his fault. It was expected that a certain target man—to be mentioned later in this slideshow—would be in good form and eager to convert Downing's crosses; but said target man has been woefully out of form this season.
Still, even if Downing is working hard as Dalglish claims, he will need to regain his form if Liverpool are to overcome the absence of Suarez.
4. Jordan Henderson
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Jordan Henderson cannot compensate directly for Luis Suarez's absence, considering their differing positions. But just the same, improved performances from Henderson can help Liverpool better cope with the absence.
After the failure of the Henderson-on-the-right-wing project, Henderson seems to finally be getting time in center midfield following Lucas Leiva's long-term injury, and he already looks significantly better than he's looked for most of the season.
Center midfield is where Henderson excelled at Sunderland, and Liverpool will be hoping that, alongside Charlie Adam, Henderson will finally excel at Anfield after a season filled with struggles.
If Adam and Henderson can form a solid partnership allowing for control of the midfield, then more possession and chances will be made available for Liverpool's forwards; which should, in turn, mean more goals and less struggles in the absence of Suarez.
3. Dirk Kuyt
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Compared to previous seasons, this season has been a relatively poor one for Dirk Kuyt.
Normally held up as a model of consistency, Kuyt has yet to even score his first league goal. As he has throughout his six seasons as a Red, he has continued to work hard, but the final touch has not been there.
Part of Kuyt's poor form can be attributed to his inconsistent playing time this season. Kuyt has found himself in and out of the starting lineup, and such inconsistency can surely mess with a striker's psyche and focus.
It must also be remembered that Kuyt is 31 years old, and surely approaching the tail end of his career.
But another Liverpool striker, Craig Bellamy, has had to cope with the same demands, inconsistent playing time and age, and has done so very well. Bellamy has scored or assisted a goal in five of the six games he's started, and has always looked dangerous off the bench.
With Suarez out, both of these players will be expected to play more, and like Bellamy, Kuyt must be ready to contribute as more playing time is made available to him.
2. Steven Gerrard
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Steven Gerrard's season has been absolutely ravaged with injuries thus far.
Despite being slowly eased into shape in the lead-up to the big Manchester United clash earlier this season, Gerrard quickly found himself injured once again the following week after a game versus Norwich City.
But now, according to Kenny Dalglish, Gerrard is once again ready to return. The timing could not be more perfect.
Steven Gerrard will fill Luis Suarez's creative vacuum, and will be tasked with providing a great deal of the magic the Uruguayan provided in the first half of the season at Merseyside.
Gerrard won't be expected to pick up the load all on his own, and indeed will have help from the likes of Charlie Adam, Craig Bellamy and, hopefully, a couple of others who also manage to improve their form.
But ultimately, as he'll be stepping into Suarez's position, Gerrard will be in charge of performing his duties. And how well Liverpool cope with Suarez's absence will undoubtedly come down to how well Gerrard can match Suarez's play in the first half of the season.
1. Andy Carroll
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I can almost hear the groans of hundreds of Liverpool supporters as they read this slide.
Especially not when Luis Suarez is absent.
But there is good news for Liverpool fans. With Suarez out, Liverpool will be forced to feed Andy Carroll the ball more (if Kenny Dalglish decides to select him), and if there's any player who can get a striker in good form, it's Steven Gerrard.
As with Torres, I cannot at all identify what has actually gone wrong with Carroll. Obviously I can come up with theories and speculations, but I cannot provide any concrete evidence as to why his Newcastle form has completely deserted him with the Reds.
But if there is or will ever be a time for Andy Carroll to shine, reclaim his form and skill, and become the Liverpool hero he was brought in to be, now is that time.
With Gerrard returning, Suarez suspended, and Liverpool still begging for a consistent target man to put the ball in the back of the net, the stage is set for Carroll to reclaim his former glory.
Will he do so? Even as a Tottenham fan eager to see Liverpool pushed further and further away from the Spurs, I hope so.
For more on what Liverpool should do without Luis Suarez, check out Karl Matchett's "5 Options for the Reds Playing Without Luis Suarez."