Suarez suspended as buoyant Liverpool add to Saints' woes
Liverpool 1 Southampton 0:Defending against Luis Suarez can make for a traumatic 90 minutes. Defending Luis Suarez, however, is a full-time occupation, as Brendan Rodgers is fast discovering. For the second successive season Liverpool’s unruly Uruguayan has been criticised for his conduct when incurring a suspension. Once again, the manager argued his innocence.
Suarez will miss Sunday’s trip to West Ham after collecting a fifth domestic caution for a punched attempt to convert Steven Gerrard’s cross that was more volleyball than football. Cue comments that riled Rodgers. “I’m sure it was instinctive and not cheating as someone suggested,” he said. “With instinctive stuff like that, of course it’s needless, but sometimes they happen.”
Sometimes they happen to Suarez, anyway. He spared Uruguay defeat in their 2010 World Cup quarter-final against Ghana with a save on his own line. The complex character who straddles the gulf between hero and villain is part-goalscorer, part-goalkeeper. If he has a history of “instinctive” handballs, Liverpool have a record of struggling in his absence.
Last season their league form nosedived during his eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra. Then, at least they had alternatives. Now there are none. Liverpool’s striker shortage has become more acute, with the last fit senior centre-forward ruled out. “I haven’t got a replacement,” Rodgers admitted. “It’s a blow but I’m not going to lose sleep at night because he’s not available.”
However, Suarez’s unavailability may prompt the manager to go for the unorthodox. Unless he selects one of Adam Morgan, Samed Yesil and Dani Pacheco, all youngsters and yet to appear on the bench for a league game this season, Jonjo Shelvey, who played an hour as a false number nine against Young Boys in the Europa League, may be the likeliest auxiliary attacker. A manager long influenced by Spanish football, with its emphasis on precise passing, may be forced to ape Spain’s controversial 4-6-0 formation.
In the six weeks since Suarez picked up his fourth yellow card, Rodgers has compiled the contingency plan he hoped he would never need. “It is always in the back of your mind he’s only one booking away from a ban, so we’ve had different ideas ready,” he said. “I do have people capable of getting goals.”
Yet Suarez is alone in managing more than one in the Premier League. Daniel Agger’s header against Southampton opened his account for the season and rendered him joint-second top-scorer.
While one defender struck, others surged forward time and again. “Jose Enrique was incredible; he was unplayable,” said Rodgers. “Glen Johnson, too.” The platform for dominance was provided by the returning Lucas Leiva, who made his first appearance in midfield for three months.