An overreliance upon a single player has been a recurring theme in football throughout the ages. It is an accusation that has been levelled at several Premier League sides, but over the course of the last decade few have been tarred with the ‘one-man team’ tag with greater frequency than Liverpool.
Gérard Houllier’s latter years at Anfield were characterised by an apparently excessive dependence upon Steven Gerrard, with this trait subsequently spilling over into the first half of Rafael Benitez’s regime, before the signing of Fernando Torres – an acquisition which soon prompted the imaginative ‘two-man team’ label (although curiously and contradictorily, the side’s alarming slump following their second-place finish in 2008/09 was attributed by many to the departure of midfielder orchestrator Xabi Alonso).
The sale of Torres and Gerrard’s increasingly common enforced absences were supposed to have banished Liverpool’s overreliance upon talismanic figures to the past, but Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm’s recent comments suggest that this may not be the case.
Speaking in the aftermath of the two sides’ recent 0-0 draw at Anfield, Vorm opined: “Maybe they rely too much on [Luis] Suárez. He is a player with incredible qualities. He’s a world-class player – I’ve played a lot of times against him in Holland and he has scored a few goals against me, so it is funny to see him again.”
“But maybe they rely too much on him. He is a player who can make a difference, you know that. But he didn’t, and they didn’t score.
“Maybe because we kept him quiet they didn’t have other options. Perhaps that is unlucky for them, because in the future he will score, you can see that.
“We did our homework and we worked hard for the full 90 minutes to deny him the chances, and that is what you have to do when you arrive at Anfield.”
Last Saturday’s deflating draw with Swansea, arguably Liverpool’s most disappointing home display of the season, saw Suárez marginalised for large periods of the game as he produced an uncharacteristically muted performance.
The effervescent Uruguayan, excellently marshalled by Garry Monk and Ashley Williams, struggled to perforate the Swansea backline, with Liverpool subsequently appearing toothless and far from penetrative, despite the presence of £55m worth of additional attacking talent in Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing.
Liverpool are not the only side in the world whose attacking threat is substantially enhanced by the presence of one such on-song player – few can deny that Manchester City, Arsenal and Barcelona are more daunting prospects with the aid of David Silva, Robin van Persie and Lionel Messi respectively – but statistically speaking it is hard to refute Vorm’s claim.
Suárez’s seven goals, six assists and one won penalty mean that the Uruguayan has been directly involved in a staggering two-thirds of the 21 goals Liverpool have scored in all competitions so far this season.
Eschewing the mentioning of tangible statistics, it is clear to see that Kenny Dalglish’s side is greatly enhanced when the 24-year-old features. Suárez’s unpredictability, creativity and exuberance are all without compare within the Anfield dressing room, and he embellishes the side with an inimitable dose of je ne sais quois.
Some crudely blamed the deteriorating physical conditions of former Liverpool strikers Michael Owen and Fernando Torres upon the club’s eagerness to rush back key players from injury, and considering Liverpool’s dearth of viable alternatives during Torres’ many absences it is unsurprising to see why such a mentality may have prevailed.
However, senior figures at the club, as well as Suárez’s team-mates, must work hard to ensure that the Uruguayan avoids a similar fate. Since signing on the last day of the January transfer window, he has started 25 of Liverpool’s 28 competitive fixtures during that period, as well as featuring twice from the bench. This of course, is in addition to his exertions during last summer’s Copa América, where he performed with distinction as Uruguay progressed to the final and claimed victory.
Having racked up an average of 40 competitive club appearances per season since moving to Groningen in 2006, it is fair to say that Suárez could be a great deal more durable than his perpetually-hamstrung predecessors. Although this may be the case, Liverpool cannot afford to take too many chances as they seek a top-four finish, and removing a share of the attacking burden from Suárez’s shoulders is a must if they are to return to Europe’s top table.
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