It was always inevitable that Liverpool would miss the talismanic services of Luis Suarez this season. A return of 31 goals in 33 appearances during his ultimate campaign at Anfield, in addition to leaving the Premier League with the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards, speaks for itself in regards to the now-Barcelona star’s world-class quality.
Yet, his absence thus far has been considerably more debasing than initially anticipated – without the 27 year-old, Liverpool have lost three of their opening five Premier League fixtures. And amid the Mersey outfit’s recent plight, it makes you wonder; what do Liverpool miss most about Luis Suarez?
Is it his goals and his creativity? The Reds should have that covered with Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic to name a few. Or perhaps his industriousness? Well, the whole team worked hard last season. Perhaps his ability to completely appal the English public on a seemingly annual basis? Surely not. I would argue the quality Liverpool miss most regarding their £65million departee is in fact his leadership.
That may seem counter-intuitive. After all, we’re talking about a player that’s embroiled himself in no less than three biting scandals – the most recent being at the 2014 World Cup – in the space of four years.
But Suarez came to epitomise much about Liverpool last season; their incredible fluidity and potency going forward, their tenacity and work ethic off the ball, their determination to defend from the front, their immense energy throughout the starting XI, their sensational team spirit. Many of those characteristics still remain at Anfield, yet a human effigy who encapsulates them in the same way, combining them with world-class quality, is absent.
Take Mario Balotelli for example, a striker who echoes Suarez’ quality in goal-scoring terms. Although he has the potential to become equally talismanic for the Reds, he’s lazy, self-centred and egotistical. He doesn’t define Liverpool in the same manner; he doesn’t serve Liverpool’s identity with a paralleled magnitude. He doesn’t provide that unique level of intensity.
The Uruguayan’s competitiveness was, and always will be, a double-edged sword. It lead to suspensions and world-wide controversy, but it also made Suarez an important leader on the pitch for Liverpool. The striker took huge individual responsibility in attack last season, not only in terms of output but all-round productivity on the ball, whilst that tenacious edge became infectious to those around him.
Local-born legend Steven Gerrard may be the connection between the players and the community, the continuity between Liverpool’s present and it’s past, but it was Suarez, not the Anfield skipper, who tacitly demanded higher performances from the rest of the squad last season – through the immense quality and consistency of his own.
It certainly feels like Liverpool are lacking a figure like that within their starting Xi this season, especially in attack. The Reds enjoyed 78% possession against Aston Villa but only produced one shot on target, eventually succumbing to a 1-0 defeat at Anfield. It was a similar case amid West Ham’s 3-1 victory at Upton Park; 62% possession, but only five accurate attempts and one goal. Clearly the right opportunities have come Liverpool’s way, but with the exception of Raheem Sterling, few of their forward players appear determined to take them.
Of course, Daniel Sturridge’s absence exacerbates the situation and sloppy defending has played it’s part too; the Reds have recorded just a solitary clean sheet in the Premier League this term, haemorrhaging eight goals in just five games. Only four clubs currently have worse defensive records.
That may seem unlinked but there is a recurring theme, namely, a hesitance from Liverpool players to take games by the scruff of the neck in the same way. And it wasn’t just Suarez doing that last season; talismanic entities appeared all over the pitch in different fixtures, ranging from Martin Skrtel in defence to Jordan Henderson in midfield, from Simon Mignolet between the sticks to Raheem Sterling in attack. Indeed, there was a fantastic group ethic at Anfield last year, a real all-for-one mentality. In my opinion, inspired most predominantly by the South American.
Suarez, one of the top strikers in world football, boasts many qualities as a player. Yet, often underrated are his qualities as a leader; that intensity infectious, that determination inspiring. Liverpool always had the money to replace Suarez’ quality. The £65million his departure provided alone is more than enough for that, and in regards to summer recruitment, Brendan Rodgers’ is difficult to criticise.
Yet, the irreplaceable element, the one part of Suarez Liverpool – regardless of fortunes – will always fail to replicate in quite the same way, is the Uruguayan’s ability to galvanise his team-mates to a higher level. Suarez was a leader for the Reds, and be it in the transfer market or already within the squad, they now need to find a new one.
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