Sunday 15 December 2019

Rodgers: Suarez transformation key to title challenge

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes striker Luis Suarez's transformation from public enemy number one to likely Footballer of the Year is a true credit to the player.

Just over 12 months ago the Uruguay international was starting a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic in one of the most bizarre incidents of last season.

The pair are set to come face to face again at the scene of the crime on Sunday but Suarez arrives at Anfield as a completely different person.

Having served his punishment, which extended five matches into the current campaign, the 27-year-old's performances have been nothing short of remarkable producing a return of 30 goals in as many Premier League games with three hat-tricks - including four goals in a 5-1 win over Norwich in December.

That means he is the favourite to lift the Professional Footballers' Association's player of the year title on Sunday evening and with it complete his rehabilitation from a player opponents and fans loved to hate to one who is fully appreciated for his world-class quality.

"He is a brilliant talent. I think the supporters have seen him mature over the course of the last season," said Rodgers.

"I think he was in a real low moment after that game (against Chelsea last year) but he has gone away and probably looked in the mirror and reflected on himself because he is not that type of guy and it probably just spilled over.

"He is a really intelligent man who fits the values of this club, which is all about humility, class and he has all of that.

"He is a sheer winner and that probably overspilled last year, but his development over the last year has been remarkable both on and off the field and Liverpool have benefited from that.

"For me he is the consistently outstanding player over the course of the last year."

Suarez's goals have helped lift Liverpool within touching distance of their first league title in 24 years.

Their five-point lead at the top means victory over the visitors would end the Stamford Bridge side's hopes of winning the league and make it a two-horse race with Manchester City, with the Merseysiders already ahead by half-a-length.

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has suggested he will field a weakened side as he has one eye on a finely-balanced Champions League semi-final second leg at home to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, but Rodgers is not buying it.

"They are an outstanding team with lots of good players and a world-class manager," he said.

"Thankfully for us, we're playing at Anfield, where we have great support behind us and they'll be important.

"We don't change. We are a team who are very aggressive in our attack.

"Of course you have to look at the opponents' strengths and be aware Chelsea's qualities are on the counter-attack - they have fast players, they will sit deep in a low block with men behind the ball.

"For us it is about us playing our game and the opponent worrying about our strength and us ensuring we are close and compact when we haven't got the ball."

What will change for Liverpool, now they are guaranteed Champions League football with a finish no lower than third, is the quality of player they will be able to attract in the summer.

"We're going to need depth to our squad - there's no question about that," said Rodgers.

"And certainly, this summer Liverpool Football Club becomes a really exciting and attractive proposition for players.

"That's something that we'll continue to look at and continue to work on, to get those talents into the club to help grow and develop the squad.

"We've got targets; we know we need to improve - we're in the Champions League now, so we can say that."

PA Media

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