TBT Columnist, Sam Drury, gives his thoughts on the return of Luis Suarez.
Should Liverpool’s in-form striker, Daniel Sturridge, be moved out of his position or will Suarez be accommodated elsewhere?
It may only have been 10 competitive games but with a prolonged transfer saga and the fact his ban has stretched from the end of one season and into the beginning of a new one in between, it seems a long time since Luis Suarez has been seen in a Liverpool shirt.
There was a time when it seemed we wouldn’t ever see it again. Arsenal looked set to lure the Uruguayan to the Emirates but, when Liverpool deemed the Gunners’ £40m offer to be insufficient, even with the added sweetener of a pound thrown into the mix, Suarez had to stay put.
The Reds number 7 had made no secret of his desire to leave, preferably for Real Madrid, but with the transfer window shut a truce between Suarez and the club was agreed. Now the striker is set to make his comeback against fierce rivals Manchester United on Wednesday.
After a poor showing in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Southampton, Brendan Rodgers will be thrilled to have his star man back, especially with Philippe Coutinho injured and Daniel Sturridge still searching for full fitness.
For the Anfield faithful it seems to be a case that Suarez’s actions during the course of the off-season have been largely forgiven but most certainly not forgotten. With goals and good performances though, the memories of his indiscretions may start to fade.
For now, it is a question of how best Liverpool can utilise their top scorer from last season to get the best out of, not only him but, the team as a whole.
After netting 30 times last campaign the obvious move would be to have the former Ajax man leading the line. However, where would that leave Daniel Sturridge?
The England forward has been in tremendous form since his January switch from Chelsea, hitting 17 goals in total and six in six games for the Merseysiders so far in 2013/14. His success has come playing as the main striker, through the middle, and Rodgers would undoubtedly loathe moving his in-form player.
Coutinho’s injury means that Suarez could be used in the number 10 role in his absence. The issue though, is that Liverpool’s midfield is already looking stretched. Playing the controversial 26-year-old ahead of Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva would risk exposing the problem further. Added to that is the Liverpool manager’s desire to play Coutinho in that position behind the striker, meaning a further reshuffle would be needed upon his return.
That leaves the option of Suarez being started in a wider role. Undoubtedly, there would be some mutterings of discontent at seeing the side’s best player and last year’s main goal-scoring threat shunted further from goal but, arguably, it could be the best solution for the Reds.
Firstly, it is a position Suarez has played in, and excelled in, before. During his time at Ajax he spent a season playing alongside Klass-Jan Huntelaar starting on the flanks and drifting inside to join the Dutchman. The results were devastating with both Huntelaar and Suarez enjoying superb seasons in front of goal. A total of 68 goals between them in 52 matches tells its own story.
Additionally, Suarez played on the left in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw at Arsenal in January. The Salto-born star showed his defensive capabilities as he tracked back to help out in defence whilst still managing to get on the scoresheet at the other end. Further proof he could succeed in the role.
The way Brendan Rodgers sets up his sides also means that while Suarez may start on the wing, he would not be expected to stay there hugging the touchline. Having fluidity in the front line is something that has come to characterise Rodgers’ Liverpool, when they are in form, in recent times and it is a style that suits Suarez down to the ground. He could be expected to pop up all over the pitch, making it even trickier for defenders to deal with him.
By playing him on wing, nominally at least, it would also allow Coutinho to slot back into the side without disrupting the side too much. In the meantime, moving Jordan Henderson or Joe Allen into a central position would help to sure up the midfield and provide a platform from which Liverpool might build. A front three of Suarez, Sturridge and Victor Moses could then have the freedom to try and wreak havoc in the final third.
What is clear is that the return of Suarez provides Liverpool with far greater options and whether he plays up front, behind the striker or on the wing, you wouldn’t bet against the Premier League’s number one villain finding the net at Old Trafford on Wednesday.