Saturday, December 10, 2011
Suarez steals but provides the show
Richard Jolly, Anfield
Scroll down the list of leading marksmen, below Demba Ba and Yakubu Ayegbeni. Continue past arguably the third-choice strikers at Manchester City and Tottenham respectively, go beyond Ivan Klasnic and Heidar Helguson and there he is: Luis Suarez.
Liverpool's top scorer can occupy a disproportionate amount of airtime and headlines for a man with five league goals. That comparatively meagre tally is, of course, far from the sole reason for Suarez's profile; famous and infamous, he has become a divisive figure, subject of defensive DVDs compiled by Kenny Dalglish and FA charges alike.
As a league drought ended - a first league goal in over two months bringing Liverpool's first win at Anfield in almost three - Suarez contrived to underline both his strengths and his failings. The Uruguayan is an incessant nuisance, a blur of speed, skill and spikiness. He is incapable of anonymity, a player who wages war on his opponents. But he is also curiously profligate.
Queens Park Rangers were tormented by Suarez long before they were defeated by him. Five first-half efforts were squandered before his winner. Suarez was the reason Liverpool won, and the reason 1-0 was a deceptive scoreline. It could have been a thrashing. He could have had a hatful. He is elusive, electric and excellent in everything but the most important issue: putting the ball in the back of the net.
There was a rarity value to his goal or, at least, the manner of it. "He scored with a header, which doesn't happen very often and played really well," said Dalglish. The element of novelty continued: one complaint is that Liverpool do not score enough goals from corners. This was the product of a poor one; it is almost a year since Sir Alex Ferguson declared Charlie Adam's corners were worth £10 million. The evidence from Anfield is rather different, but a poor delivery nonetheless brought a reward: headed straight back to Adam, his second cross was altogether better. Suarez had evaded his marker, Luke Young, and duly converted.
"Luis Suarez was magnificent and it was appropriate the best player on the pitch scored," said Neil Warnock; as he concluded, Suarez was the man of the match simply because he was the dominant figure. Indeed, in an attempt to prevent him scoring a second, Shaun Wright-Phillips diverted Craig Bellamy's cross against his own bar.
With Radek Cerny producing a trio of terrific saves to deny Maxi Rodriguez, Liverpool were limited to one goal. It made for a heart-warming tale for the Rangers understudy - "I'm really pleased for him," said Warnock. "He's 37, a top professional and thought he'd never play another game in the Premier League" - and was a sign of the Argentine's influence when he is selected. He and Suarez seem on the same wavelength and the Uruguayan set up the Argentine twice in short succession. Indeed, Liverpool seemed liberated by the omission of Andy Carroll; lacking a focal point, a more fluent attack were faster.
One goal was in inadequate reflection of their efforts. "Maybe the goals tally was [less than we deserve], but one is enough when the others don't get an opportunity," added Dalglish and QPR, who did not trouble Pepe Reina, rarely threatened. Yet the consequence is that Liverpool have only mustered 18 league goals, fewer than relegation-threatened Blackburn and their second highest scorer is the ever useful own goals (£35 million cheaper than Carroll, as the inevitable witticism goes).
It is why some suggest a striker should be the priority in January. The reality is that Liverpool need to convert more chances; without Suarez, however, they would not create half as many.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Luis Suarez - Impossible to ignore when he is in this mood. Many strikers are on the margins of a game. He is right at its heart.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: At long last, a win at Anfield after four successive draws. With Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard injured and Jay Spearing suspended, Liverpool lacked a specialist defensive midfielder. On this occasion, it didn't matter; they in complete control for the most part with the more progressive pairing of Adam and Jordan Henderson. Downing excelled as a creator on the right but is still without either a league goal or an assist in his Anfield career but Kuyt, another yet to strike outside the Carling Cup, could be displaced by Bellamy, a lively replacement. Maxi's display suggested he should he involved more.
QPR VERDICT: A chipper Warnock called his players "superb". That was an exaggeration - fine goalkeeping and poor finishing kept the score down - but Rangers never gave up. They were without their leading marksman, too, with Helguson, who had a knock, rested ahead of next week's trip to Manchester United. Warnock's rejigged side is taking shape and, noticeably, there was no Adel Taarabt, even on the bench. While their players battled, their fans entertained by giving their aesthetic appraisal of Liverpool's players ("Jonjo Shelvey, he looks like ET"; "Andy Carroll, he looks like a girl") in between taunting Suarez.