Can Liverpool expect to match last season without Luis Suarez?

After attempting to take a chunk out of Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder with his teeth during a World Cup group fixture against Italy, Liverpool have decided to finally cash-in on talismanic yet ever-controversial striker Luis Suarez, who has become the latest object of transfer desires for Barcelona.

£80million for a player who now appears unable to last a full season without flirting with the realms of on-pitch cannibalism, in my opinion, is a good piece of business. The Reds already faced a stern test in keeping the South American’s suitors at bay this summer, but now the incentive to do so has greatly declined. After last summer’s public relations mess at the Confederations Cup, clearly Suarez just isn’t worth the hassle.

But one lingering concern persists – without Suarez, a 31-goal, twelve assists, multi-award-winning  forward, can Liverpool expect  to come anywhere close to their second-place Premier League finish from last year? For a militantly ambitious club, selling your flagship star amid a period of raucous momentum on Merseyside, whilst Anfield welcomes back Champions League football for the first time since 2009 next season, is hardly what you’d describe as a militantly ambitious strategy.

There is certainly a case to be argued that even with Luis Suarez leading the attack again next season, Liverpool won’t be able to live up to their runner-up finish from last term. To say the Reds were somehow fortunate to finish second would be unjust and condescending, yet few dispute that sustained  momentum of impressive results and the subsequent sense of fearlessness it created around Anfield, combined with continuous chaos at the Premier League’s summit, typified by Manchester United’s slump to seventh-place, were amongst the largest influences on Liverpool’s season. In that regard, it’s understandable the Merseysiders have accepted the inevitable in selling the Uruguayan now, before his devilish streak begins to affect his price-tag.

Not that there wasn’t great quality on display throughout Liverpool’s squad last term – Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, along with Suarez, both earned places in the PFA Team of the Year, whilst Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Jon Flanagan all enjoyed impressive breakthrough campaigns. Brendan Rodgers will expect the latter contingent to only grow stronger and more confident after their exceptional seasons, and resultantly contribute to filling the void the Barcelona-bound Uruguayan leaves behind.

The signings of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic and Divock Origi will aid that cause too – although there is certainly an argument to be had that the Reds are attempting too much too quickly in the transfer market, especially with news that Dejan Lovren, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Alberto Moreno, in addition to a direct replacement for Suarez, are expected to follow. Tottenham’s troubling season after spending £110million on new recruits last summer, following Gareth Bale’s record-breaking departure to Real Madrid, is a lesson for Rodgers to bear in mind.

But even with these acquisitions in consideration – even if Liverpool were to somehow source a striker of a similar quality – Suarez is set to leave an enormous hole behind at Anfield.

The Reds are by no means a one-man team. In fact, they claimed ten points out of a possible 15, including wins against Stoke City and Manchester United, whilst the 27 year-old was serving the remainder of his ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic at the start of last season. Suarez’s absence lead to a run of four goals in four games for Daniel Sturridge, and the England international, after finishing last term with 21 goals in 26 league starts, will be keen to persuade that he can fill the vacuum of firepower instigated by his strike-partner’s departure.

But to suggest the Uruguay striker’s influence was goals and goals alone would be a horrific fallacy. Although his 31 goals in 33 games undoubtedly contributed significantly, it was Suarez’s all-round game, his talismanic ferocity in leading Liverpool’s attack, that earned him the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards.

His twelve assists, making him in some way responsible for 43 of the Reds’ 101 league goals last season, gives a strong indication of Suarez’s intrinsic, all-round contribution, but it’s furthermore worth noting the Barca-bound forward finished the year with the second-most dribbles and the fifth-most key passes per match of any Premier League player.  Unsurprisingly, these were both the best averages of any player in the Liverpool squad – barring Raheem Sterling’s equalled 2.8 dribbles per match – by quite some way. Likewise,  his 22 clear-cut opportunities created last term were the most of any top flight player.

In other words, it is not only one of Europe’s most potent goal threats the Merseysiders are losing this summer, but furthermore and most importantly, their most creative and dynamic force going forward. Can Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert or Lazar Markovic take on this mantle? Either individually or as a collective? Only time will tell, but the immediate assumption is probably not.

Perhaps this is all common knowledge, perhaps these concerns have already been felt and accepted at Anfield. But as previously stated, Liverpool is a unique club with exceptionally high standards – it would be a shame if the inevitabilities of Suarez’s departure, combined with unrealistic expectations as a result of last season, were to eventually cost Brendan Rodgers his job.

The Ulsterman has done sensational work since taking the Anfield helm in summer 2012, but following a record-breaking season that witnessed eleven managerial sackings, it’s conclusively clear where the buck now stops in the Premier League.