Saturday, November 17, 2012
Suarez reiterates his value to Liverpool
Richard Jolly, Anfield
For Liverpool and Roberto Martinez alike, this was the footballing equivalent of the wilfully cruel part of gameshows where prizes are paraded and contestants taunted with a message: look what you could have won.
For the Anfield public, the answer was apparent: a manager with distinct similarities to the one they appointed. Along with Brendan Rodgers, Martinez was interviewed in June. These are two stylists with a past at Swansea, precocious evangelists for the passing game. Meet the new boss, same as the other boss.
For Martinez, the difference was more marked. This was a game Wigan perhaps could have won, and very possibly would have drawn, but for one man. While Raheem Sterling provided indications of his burgeoning talent, while Jose Enrique relished his reinvention as a raiding winger, it was, as ever, all about Luis Suarez.
He separated the two teams on the day and illustrated the different worlds they inherit. This is an era of austerity at Anfield but such concepts are still relative. Martinez found a forward for £4 million, and Arouna Kone has chipped in with four goals so far. The £15 million Rodgers paid for Joe Allen was the equivalent of the purchase prices of half the Wigan side combined.
Suarez, signed when the cheques were bigger and the ambitions higher, cost £22.8 million. Now he may be worth double that and, while the mooted move to Manchester City - something both clubs and Suarez himself all profess themselves uninterested in - appears unlikely, his value to Liverpool is immense.
It is not explained solely by the scarcity of strikers. The symbolic No. 7 shirt has acquired an added importance, given the lack of scorers in any other garb. While Enrique savoured opening his Liverpool account, Suarez has 10 of Liverpool's 17 league goals. Many a player pledges to give 100% - if not the clichéd 110% - but the reality is that Suarez has contributed 59% of Liverpool's goals.
"He is a master marksman, absolutely outstanding and we are thrilled to have him," Rodgers said. "He is a wonderful striker and his movement was outstanding."
Martinez, ever gracious in his praise for an opponent, concurred by describing Suarez's contribution to the opening goal as "a sign of a top player". It followed what their manager deemed Wigan's first error, as Jean Beausejour's under-hit pass was read by Sterling. The teenager darted in ahead of Maynor Figueroa and supplied a cross. Suarez whipped his shot past Ali Al Habsi.
He defeated the Omani again with less force but rather more deftness after Enrique, emerging as one of his principal providers, angled a pass through the Wigan defence. Then, however, came Suarez's latest brush with infamy. A lunge at David Jones may or may not have been malicious but, thankfully for Liverpool, it went unpunished. Suarez is on four yellow cards and Martinez felt a red could have been brandished.
"He was very fortunate because there was a stamp on David Jones the referee didn't see," he argued. It was a particularly painful day for the Wigan midfield; Jones was called into action when Ben Watson broke his leg in a collision with the blameless Sterling.
One winger was predictably prominent, the other a surprise choice. "The reincarnation of Jose Enrique," chuckled Rodgers, repeating a phrase about the reinvention of a left-back as a winger. Enrique supplied the second, scored the third, tapping in after Al Habsi parried Sterling's shot and could have made a first-half breakthrough, but for a fine stop by the goalkeeper.
While Kenny Dalglish, in his first spell in charge, developed a fondness for playing defenders in midfield and gave Jamie Carragher a rare outing as a holding player during his second stint at the helm, Rodgers drew inspiration from White Hart Lane for this particular switch.
"Look at Gareth Bale," he said. "Jose is someone I think can do that role." Stewart Downing, who was not even on the bench, is someone he presumably thinks cannot. Suso, the teenager Rodgers had described as a "seven-and-a-half" when used on the flank, was granted the role of the No. 10 and, after a bright start, demoted to the rank of 12th man when he was hauled off in a tactical change.
"I flipped the [midfield] triangle around," said Rodgers, following the introduction of Jordan Henderson. He ended with another midfielder leading the line. Jonjo Shelvey was a late replacement for Suarez, substituted to a standing ovation after a trademark display.
The goals, the quality, the controversy: they could have been Martinez's blessings and burden. Instead it is Rodgers who finds himself deflecting questions about the Uruguayan. Trying to praise the whole team, he said: "It's not just Luis Suarez." But in many ways, it really is.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Luis Suarez - Long a thorn in the side of defenders, the striker is becoming more consistent. He is the Premier League's top scorer now and while Liverpool remain in the lower half of the league, he is emerging as a candidate for Footballer of the Year.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Unimpressive in the first half, they played with far more confidence after taking the lead. Playing Enrique as a left winger was a switch that worked for Rodgers while Henderson, an awful miss apart, had one of his better games. It suggested Nuri Sahin has dropped below both him and Suso in the pecking order.
WIGAN VERDICT: Once again, the midweek internationals took their toll on a team from many continents. Wigan's long-distance travellers ran out of steam with Franco di Santo, a team-mate of Lionel Messi on Wednesday, less impressive alongside Shaun Maloney. With Watson out, it is now all the more important James McArthur returns to fitness in the midfield.