London – Brendan Rodgers can afford himself a smile as he contemplates Luis Suarez bounding out at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday with mischief in mind.
Yet had things turned out differently this summer, Rodgers would have spent the next few days shifting uncomfortably. A trip to Arsenal would have been the pair’s first meeting after an acrimonious split.
Such was the acclaim Suarez received after his hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion – Rodgers confessed to wanting to join in the ovation when the striker was substituted in the 89th minute – it was difficult to comprehend a time when the relationship was near breaking.
Rodgers even sent Suarez into exile over concerns about his attitude. Supporters felt the Uruguayan had been disrespectful with the way he acted, while Liverpool’s owners found the saga bewildering.
Here, however, was proof of why Liverpool refused to buckle when Arsenal failed with two bids. At times in the 4-1 win over West Brom, Suarez played a different game to those around him, hypnotising West Brom’s defenders with skill and trickery.
With Suarez in such form, every opposition manager in the Premier League will shiver with fear about the damage the 26-year-old may inflict, Arsene Wenger included. Rodgers can afford to feel some satisfaction with the way a traumatic period turned out.
“There are different types of players and characters,” said Rodgers. “I knew once he was told we wouldn’t sell that it would be difficult for him initially. But I also knew he would get his head down and work. He is not one to fake or feign injury and sit in the treatment room.
“Once he trains and once he gets out there, his love of football takes over; that was there for all to see. As a football club, we felt we had to make a stand and it’s paying off. It is paying off for him as well; the team is getting better. That is something he wants to be a part of.
“He is building that relationship up again and when he performs like that, you can see that love for each other between the supporters and him. Both he and Daniel (Sturridge) are playing off each other really well. Long may it continue.”
Suarez and Sturridge, who scored with a stunning chip, are the reason Liverpool are managing to match strides with Arsenal at the top of the table – they have scored 10 goals between them in the last four matches – and the longer they maintain this pace, ambitions about what Liverpool may achieve will be reassessed.
What made this win, Liverpool’s best of the campaign, so meritorious was the fact that Albion never capitulated and even when they trailed 3-0, their work-rate never slackened.
“Some days, you have to hold your hands up and say the best team won,” said Albion manager Steve Clarke. “Their strikers were electric. In that form, Suarez is in the top five in the world.”
Inevitably, such form will mean the admirers do not avert their gaze but the more Liverpool keep winning, the more Suarez may be convinced that he doesn’t need to leave Anfield to achieve his aims.
“We are growing as a team and he can grow with us,” said Rodgers. “He has the support of everyone at the club and the love of everyone.
“This is a worldwide institution. I still maintain even if we were in mid-table, this is the place for him to be. This is a massive club.” – Daily Mail