By the time April comes around, few will begrudge Luis Suarez the chance to win the PFA Player of the Season award.
He’s the unanimous favourite amongst a field of strong candidates, and rightly so. It would be unfair on the rest of Suarez’s Liverpool team-mates to suggest he is single-handedly dragging them towards their first Premier League title, but it’s undebatable that the single greatest contributing factor towards their success is that Luis Suarez is having the most phenomenal individual Premier League season that anyone has had the privilege to witness.
The Liverpool striker has currently notched an unparalleled 25 goals and 10 assists in his first 24 games. He has virtually double the goals tally of all but two others in the league, whilst he sits joint at the top of the assist ranking alongside Wayne Rooney.
Most recently, Suarez played a starring role in humbling Manchester United at Old Trafford 3-0, winning the penalty for Liverpool’s first goal and scoring their third.
It’s a rare occurrence that a team chasing the league title don’t have one outstanding performer. Cristiano Ronaldo scored an incredible 31 goals and gained a further seven assists in his 34 appearances when Manchester United went on to win the 2007/08 Premier League.
Carlo Ancelotti’s double-winning season with Chelsea in 2009/10 was in large part down to the influence of Didier Drogba, who scored 29 and assisted 10 in 32 league matches. And who can forget the perpetual brilliance of Thierry Henry, who averaged over a goal or an assist a game in each season from 2002/03 to 2005/06, never failing to top 20 league goals.
But Suarez hasn’t had the benefit of the luxuries the aforementioned players enjoyed. The depth of the United, Chelsea and Arsenal league-winning squads were far greater than that at the disposal of Brendan Rodgers, whose squad teeters on the brink of one or two major injuries which could see all their great work rapidly come undone.
Also, the defence under Rodgers this season has at times looked shaky, having conceded 35 goals from 29 games so far. Compare this to the ‘Invincibles’ 26, Manchester United’s 22 of 2007/08 and Chelsea’s 32 of 2010, and the pressure on Suarez to go above and beyond the feats of previous top performers is increased.
The summer vibes surrounding Suarez in the summer didn’t give any inclination towards the kind of season that was round the corner for him. A 10-game ban followed by months of agitating for a transfer was hardly the ideal preparation.
But 25 goals and 10 assists later and a genuine discussion wages on as to whether Suarez could stake a claim to be Liverpool’s greatest ever ‘no. 7’, greater than ‘King Kenny’ himself. Such compliments from the likes of Graeme Souness, a Liverpool legend in his own right, are not to be sniffed at.
Suarez is well on his way to eclipsing the previous efforts of the great Premier League players who have shone before him. As of early March he was contributing to a Liverpool goal every 61 minutes, and scoring every 86. His longevity of his goal-scoring stats this season are of the likes we have never had in the Premier League, matching those of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo.
It isn’t just his goal contribution which makes Suarez stand out from the rest either. It’s the relentlessness of his play and his character on the pitch. Jamie Redknapp described Luis Suarez as ‘perpetual motion’ in his post-match analysis, highlighting him moving around in midfield whilst his team-mates are in possession.
His willingness to make runs both in between the lines and beyond opposition defences and his effectiveness in possession are remarkable. He links in with the team’s build-up play and possesses an alertness to make something of a less-than-half-chance is second to none.
He has come some distance from the talented, yet raw and self-centred player who arrived at Liverpool in January 2011. Under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers Suarez hasn’t lost one iota of the tenacity which characterises his game, but he has flourished into a well-rounded team player.
He was arguably the Premier League’s stand-out performer last season, and if it wasn’t for his ludicrous bite on Branislav Ivanovic then he could very well have taken home all the individual accolades. But this season there can be no argument.
The achievements of the likes of Henry, Drogba and Ronaldo in past seasons are incredible but Suarez is blowing them out of the water. He is the central component to a squad that has clear flaws and a team which, on the pitch, is having to go beyond the usual necessities of most championship-chasing sides, due to their defensive frailties.
Suarez has raised his game under Brendan Rodgers’ tutelage to levels the Premier League has never had, and he’s taking Liverpool with him.