Sunday, November 4, 2012
Unplayable Suarez carries Reds burden
Richard Jolly, Anfield
For a moment, Liverpool had a glimpse of a glorious midfield combination. Reunited on the Anfield turf, after a decade apart, were two of 2001's Treble winners. Gary McAllister's Indian summer coincided with the development of Steven Gerrard into a world-class footballer.
• Review: QPR, Liverpool draw
• Blog: Missed opportunities
• Premier League gallery
Junior player then, senior citizen now, Gerrard finds himself playing alongside talents 30 years younger than McAllister. The older man's return was brief, to present the current captain with a figure of a Liver Bird to sit on the mantelpiece and commemorate his considerable achievement in becoming the 10th man to represent the club 600 times.
Newcastle were appropriate opponents for the occasion. Gerrard has twice been afforded standing ovations at St James' Park for tours de force. Luis Suarez rarely attracts such displays of open admiration from anyone outside Anfield but, while the 32-year-old may not be the buccaneering figure of old, the Uruguayan took on his mantle as Newcastle's tormentor in chief.
While Gerrard, adding to the nostalgia trip at Anfield, performed an impromptu Xabi Alonso impression with an attempt to score from the centre circle, Suarez remains defiantly idiosyncratic. His goal was one few others could have scored: the pace to sprint beyond the visiting defence, the exquisite touch to pluck Jose Enrique's long pass out of the Anfield air - perhaps, after all, Marouane Fellaini does not possess the best chest control on Merseyside - and the speed and skill to dart around Tim Krul and steer the ball into the unguided net. "Brilliant," said Brendan Rodgers.
It was his tenth goal and spared Liverpool a fifth home defeat of the campaign. If the feeling persists that, with more consistent finishing, Suarez could challenge Ian Rush's club record of 47 goals in a season, the worrying question for Liverpool is where they would be without him. He is a lone striker in more ways than one, the sole senior forward available and an individual who carries the attack to opponents with incessant, irrepressible running.
"He was unplayable," added Rodgers. "He's an absolute joy to work with. He has got a real hunger for the game. He wants to play every minute of every game." Given the lack of alternatives, that is just as well.
"If we could have wrapped him up, I think we would have won," said Alan Pardew. Mummifying Suarez would be one way of halting him. Fabricio Coloccini's method was altogether less legal and more reprehensible. After being run ragged, the Newcastle defender raked his studs down the back of Suarez's right leg and was duly dismissed. "I think Coloccini was frustrated," said Rodgers, in an understatement. His Newcastle counterpart took a different view. "It doesn't look too clever but I don't think there is any intent there," Pardew said.
He had compared his captain to Bobby Moore a fortnight ago, but this was more Norman 'Bites Yer Legs' Hunter. Suarez, labelled "the cannibal of Ajax" in his time in Holland, is more man possessed than man-eater these days.
His brief, Rodgers suggested, is similar to Lionel Messi's. "We play him in that false nine role," he explained. "He is not your traditional No. 9, up there, static. I ask him to get on the move and get defenders out of their positions. His cleverness and his movement are really world class."
His free kicks are part of the overall package and one, looping up off Papiss Demba Cisse, bounced on to the bar. It was almost a winner while Jonjo Shelvey also had a hat-trick of opportunities to decide the game. "Our performance was outstanding," Rodgers said. The result was familiar. "It is five draws now in ten league and games and of those draws, we should have won at least three," the manager added.
The worrying fact is that, excellent as Liverpool were, passing at pace and creating chances, they are yet to beat a team they would regard as their peers. Their only league victories have come against potential relegation strugglers, in Norwich and Reading. A key is easing the burden on Suarez. "We need to get goals from other areas," Rodgers admitted.
Midfield, for instance. The game's first goal came from player deployed in the centre of the pitch. Yohan Cabaye took Hatem Ben Arfa's deep cross down with a delightful touch and dispatched it past Brad Jones with a still better one. With laser-like precision and lovely technique, it was a goal worthy of those midfield masters, McAllister and Gerrard.
Not for the first time, Liverpool could lament the fact Newcastle picked up Cabaye for £4.8 million in the summer of 2011 when they paid £24 million for two inferior players, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson. One was a pundit, another an unused substitute at Anfield. Neither has warranted being in the same company as Gerrard but Cabaye would have been, and Suarez certainly is.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Luis Suarez. Rodgers was right; Suarez was unplayable. Importantly, he was also well behaved. The Uruguayan is on four bookings and a fifth would have ruled him out of Sunday's trip to Chelsea. He roused his team-mates and the crowd alike with his energy.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Encouraging but with a caveat. They had 19 attempts at goal and scored once. A low chance conversion rate has been a constant in the last 15 months. Rodgers praised substitute Shelvey for getting in goalscoring positions, something he does more frequently than Nuri Sahin. As Suarez drags defenders out of the way, it is more important that others break into the box. They are runs the injured Fabio Borini, with his tactical awareness, was signed to make but that Suso, for all his talent, is rather too reluctant to attempt.
NEWCASTLE VERDICT: "I've now got a much smaller squad than when we started the game," Pardew said. He lost four players: Coloccini to suspension and James Perch, Demba Ba and Cabaye to injury, with the Englishman's thigh problem looking the most serious. It was a hard-fought point for Newcastle and, as Pardew pointed out, they had their opportunities to win it at 1-1. In the end, however, they should count themselves fortunate to emerge with something. After 15 defeats in their previous 17 league trips to Anfield, this was still one of their more profitable visits to Merseyside, despite the injuries.