London - Few players have undergone a transformation from sinner to saint like that which Luis Suarez is experiencing this season, and the prolific Uruguay striker is now dreaming of winning the Premier League.
Liverpool went top of the table by beating Cardiff City 3-1 on Saturday, Suarez scoring twice to take his season’s tally to 19 goals from 12 league matches ahead of the busy holiday programme which offers no let-up in the title race.
The Anfield club visit fellow contenders Manchester City on Thursday before travelling to Chelsea on Sunday and Suarez, who missed the opening five matches of the season following a ban imposed last season for biting an opponent, is a man reborn.
“It is my dream, I hope to win the league and a big trophy with Liverpool,” he said on Monday.
Suarez signed a new four-year contract last week and according to one prominent football writer, is in such good form he’s making “the likes of (former Anfield greats) Ian Rush, Roger Hunt and Robbie Fowler appear like they were occasional marksmen”.
The race for the title reaches the halfway stage with four rounds of matches over Christmas and New Year.
Unlike Germany where there is an unofficial “winter champion”, no such accolade exists in England, but historically it is no bad thing to top the table at this time of the year.
The top team at Christmas in the 21 completed Premier League seasons has won the title 10 times. Seven of the last nine champions, and all of the last four title winners, were first on December 25. The last team to be first at Christmas and miss out on the title was Liverpool in 2009.
This time last year, eventual champions Manchester United held a four-point lead over Manchester City going into Christmas and were 11 clear of third-placed Chelsea. This season, though, the race is much closer.
Liverpool now have 36 points and the leading eight teams are separated by only eight points, down to champions United with 28.
Despite varying ups and downs in the first half of the season the top eight - Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea, Newcastle United, Tottenham and Manchester United all have realistic hopes of finishing in the top four.
Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta said last week: “Christmas is so important. Does it matter that this current team has not won the title before? No, it doesn’t. What is important is that you get as many points as you can over Christmas. That’s what counts.”
Arsenal visit relegation-threatened West Ham in a London derby on Boxing Day, when champions United travel to Hull City. On December 29, Liverpool visit Chelsea while Arsenal make the long trip to Newcastle.
Everton have two home games to take a grip on a top four spot, against bottom club Sunderland on Thursday and faltering Southampton three days later.
Spurs, with caretaker manager Tim Sherwood in charge following last week’s departure of Andre Villas-Boas, have home games against West Brom and Stoke before playing at Manchester United on New Year’s Day.
Being bottom at Christmas almost certainly heralds relegation at the end of the season. Since 1992-93, when the Premier League started, only one club bottom at Christmas has escaped the drop - West Brom in 2004/05.