Sunday 22 October 2017

James Lawton: Liverpool hopes as solid as the next Suarez mood swing

Reds can go top of Premier League with derby win – but it would be naive to believe striker will change

You can make any roll call of Merseyside derby heroes. You can ransack the greatest days of men such as Dixie Dean and Kenny Dalglish, Alan Ball and Steven Gerrard.

But then where does it leave you? Still, let's be honest, some way short of the dependency created by the man Liverpool this week rushed to ferry by private jet from South America to take his place at the heart of tomorrow's High Noon confrontation at Goodison Park.

The truth is that, though Luis Suarez puts many gifts at the disposal of Liverpool, with quite a few of them arguably the most thrilling in the long history of the club, certainty is certainly not one of them – nor trust.

He gives and he takes, he sends you to the stars and then spits in your eye. Indeed, it is hard not to believe that one city's historic duel has, on this occasion at least, become nothing so much as one man's stage – and career opportunity.

Suarez is not only – and by some distance – the most talented player, but also the most influential by the same margin. Everton's manager Roberto Martinez agrees that he is the big shadow over his best hopes of building on an impressively solid start and breaking into the top four.

Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers says that the Uruguayan has done nothing less than redefine the way he sees a job, which he used to think was about tactics and knowledge more than the foibles of an extraordinary and often ungovernable player.

The truth is that one player's stranglehold on the attention of a major football club would have been unprecedented even before the most recent word from Madrid that Real coach Carlo Ancelotti has returned Suarez to the top of his wish list. Inevitably, though, it brings along an unavoidable question.

Are Liverpool right to see Suarez as not just the key to any one victory, but also the vital element in a return to the old glory? Or are they kidding themselves right up to another crisis in the January transfer window?

Are Suarez's eight Premier League goals, and a series of reminders that, in pure talent, if not unsullied competitive character, there is impressive evidence that he is close to the mountain top Cristiano Ronaldo may have finally claimed for himself this week? Are they a foundation for the future or will they lead only to another betrayal?

It is a haunting possibility hardly disguised by the pronouncements of Rodgers and, especially, Gerrard.

SWAGGERED

When Suarez swaggered back into the action after his 10-match suspension, the Liverpool captain could scarcely have been more euphoric, declaring: "Nobody tried harder than me to make him stay and he knows what I think of him. I knew if we could keep him, the better our chances would be.

"He is special and he gives us something different. When the club got the message to him that they were not going to sell him, he got his head down and worked hard. He hasn't given us a moment's problem.

"I think it is a credit to Luis the way he has come back. A lot of players who have been in his position might have come back and spat the dummy out. He realised the club wanted to keep him and has respected the decision. He wants to achieve something this season and looks as happy as he has ever done."

For Liverpool, it was the most uplifting conclusion, but it may only be as good as Suarez's next mood swing. This is the central drama of every Suarez performance. How will he react if things don't go his way?

Rodgers is plainly ambivalent about the 'Suarez Effect'. He knows its huge match-winning quality, but then he is also aware how close it can bring the self-belief of his team – and himself – to breaking point.

For now, Rodgers can reasonably count himself a winner in the hazardous game he has been required to play ever since he took over from Dalglish. The latter compromised both himself and his job in trying to defend Suarez and Rodgers went some way along that road. Now he believes the ordeal by fire has left him a stronger manager.

"I believe the need to deal with the Suarez situation has made me a better manager. Some of the things Suarez has done he knows were wrong. Some of them have provided really testing moments for a manager," he said.

As of now, the received wisdom at Anfield is that the challenge has been met, that the wildness of Suarez has been contained. But some extremely large elephants remain in the room – and not least Real and Arsenal, who so convincingly repelled Liverpool's attempt to go top of the Premier League two weeks ago.

MAYHEM

Who can be sure that even now Suarez is not imagining the possibilities of playing in front of Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Carzola? Or possibly intruding into the mayhem inflicted by Ronaldo at the Bernabeu.

Such reflections, the record says, would be less than staggering in the wake of failure at Goodison Park, whatever Gerrard says about the new Suarez and however much Rodgers convinces himself that he has wrestled down the greatest man-management problem he is ever likely to face.

Suarez states his position with uncommon force and it is maybe best summed up in the old cry of a gifted maverick, the one that says, "You take the best, so you really have to live with the rest."

For some time his club have lived with such an accommodation and tomorrow they can only pray for the best of him. It could very well carry Liverpool to the top, at least until Arsenal's game with Southampton.

Who knows, it might also placate the demons of Suarez – if only for another week.

Irish Independent

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