Despite a little rust, Luis Suarez’s road to rehabilitation begins with promise
Encouraging signs for Liverpool supporters in striker’s performance
Manchester United’s Phil Jones challenges Liverpool’s Luis Suarez during their English League cup game at Old Trafford. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters
The menace was back but to the relief of Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool it was limited to Luis Suarez’s performance at Old Trafford. For five months the Uruguay international has “suffered” in isolation, according to his manager, and although it is impossible to sympathise with the guilty party there is no disputing Rodgers’s assessment that Suarez owes Liverpool. He appeared in the mood to repay that debt against Manchester United.
The rehabilitation will be prolonged, Rodgers concedes, with Suarez’s reputation carrying too many scars to be repaired during a one-off cup tie at the home of Liverpool’s fiercest rivals. In many respects his return from a 10-match suspension was unexceptional. And that, for Liverpool, represents a decent start.
Suarez struck the crossbar with a 25-yard free-kick he had won when spinning away from Phil Jones on the edge of the United penalty area. He also produced a 90-minute contribution that grew in threat and influence and was welcomed back without reservation by the Liverpool supporters.
Both teams pinned their pre-match hopes on strikers who spent their summers trying to leave, only to discover clubs of United’s and Liverpool’s stature have the strength even in this era to say no and mean it. Those indiscretions are conveniently put to one side for players of the value of Suarez and Wayne Rooney, although winning back favour is sometimes easier than integrating into a winning team.
Liverpool won seven, drew two and lost only one of the 10 matches that Suarez missed for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. Their record was also impressive two seasons ago when the Uruguayan served a nine-match suspension for using racially abusive language towards Patrice Evra plus for improper conduct at Fulham.
Then, Kenny Dalglish’s team won five, drew two and lost two. Yet results nose-dived with Suarez back in the side. That is not to pin responsibility on Liverpool’s leading forward, of course.
Daniel Sturridge has flourished in Suarez’s latest absence, with the confidence of a regular starting role under Rodgers enhanced by his position at the head of the Liverpool attack. The Liverpool manager sees no reason to shift the England international now Suarez is available, perhaps due to the latter having to regain favour following this summer’s flirtation with Arsenal as the former’s commanding form, but that question was parked as Rodgers went with a bold 3-5-2 formation. His adventure was reflected in a dominant first-half performance.
Rodgers’s decision to try Suarez and Sturridge in a partnership was also vindicated as they quickly re-established a connection last seen 157 days ago.
After handshakes all round, obligatory jeers from the Stretford End and Suarez songs from a 7,000-strong Liverpool contingent, the Uruguay international was instrumental in spreading unease throughout Moyes’s rearguard.
The return was never going to be as seamless as Rodgers had proclaimed, despite the striker having the Confederations Cup, two World Cup qualifiers and several behind-closed-doors friendlies to keep him sharp during his domestic suspension. Suarez’s first few runs betrayed an understandable over-eagerness.
A touch to control Jose Enrique’s inch-perfect cross over Jonny Evans was heavy, though he was still able to connect to force David de Gea into his first save of the night.
But it was hardly a display encased in rust. Gradually, the runs connected with Steven Gerrard’s vision, Suarez began to appear across the United back line and his understanding with Sturridge allowed Liverpool to take control. Suarez engineered his first chance for himself with a neat turn inside the area that forced Evans to intervene. He released Sturridge only for the striker to poke wide. He was also sent tumbling several times, had Evans on his heels throughout but crucially did not respond. The match officials, however, were always quick to react whenever Suarez was involved in a minor tussle, the price he will have to pay as he begins the path towards redemption.