SUNDERLAND head coach Gus Poyet set off for Liverpool hoping compatriot Luis Suarez would be struck down by before he could do any more damage.
The 46-year-old Uruguayan and his players face a huge task at Anfield tonight as they attempt to bounce back from an abject display in Saturday's 2-0 Premier League defeat at Norwich which left them deep in relegation trouble.
They will arrive on Merseyside to confront a Reds juggernaut piloted largely by Suarez, whose haul of 28 league goals to date this season is two more than Sunderland's entire squad has managed.
Poyet has been aware of his countryman for some time, but admitted he did not expect him to catapult himself into the highest echelons of world football.
The Black Cats boss said: "I saw him once in a summer friendly game. He was just starting, I think he was 17 or 18. He was a powerful striker playing on his own, but of course, not the player we are seeing today.
"To be honest, I wasn't even thinking he would be so good. He played a decent game, but now he is on another level.
"Now you can compare him with the top players in the world because he makes the difference somehow."
Poyet added with a smile: "It's going to be tough. I hope he gets ill tonight."
Suarez and strike partner Daniel Sturridge have plundered a total of 47 league goals between them to fire Brendan Rodgers' men firmly into the title race. However, Poyet firmly believes they would be languishing in midtable had it not been for the Uruguay international.
He said: "I am not surprised, that's why they have got a chance. Without Suarez, they would probably be in mid-table. It's not about how they play, how they defend, how they pass the ball, it's about having a player who is going to be voted the best player of the year by everybody, if we are honest."
By contrast, Sunderland find themselves entrenched at the opposite end of the table with goals at one end at a premium – midfielder Adam Johnson's seven in the league equals the sum total managed by strikers Steven Fletcher, Jozy Altidore, Fabio Borini and Ignacio Scocco – and a depressingly familiar occurrence at the other. With Fletcher nursing another ankle injury and loan signing Borini ineligible to play against his parent club, 20-year-old Connor Wickham has been recalled from Leeds.
Suarez has equalled his club's record for Premier League goals in a season, set by Robbie Fowler in 1997, and has his sights set on the all-time landmark (34) shared by Andy Cole in 1993-94 and Alan Shearer in 1994-95. However, they scored theirs in 40 and 42 games, while Suarez has 28 in 25 and has just eight more games to surpass them, having missed five league matches at the start of the season through suspension.
The rate at which Suarez is scoring this season is startling as he is averaging 1.12 goals a game – far in excess of the 0.85 and 0.81 strike-rates of Cole and Shearer – and, if he were to continue on that trajectory, he would set a new high.