Suarez makes his mark on Premier League return
Striker grabs two goals following the end of 10-match ban
Liverpool’s Luis Suarez celebrates scoring his second and his side’s third goal during the Premier League match against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA
Sunderland 1 Liverpool 3: Luis Suarez may have damaged Liverpool’s “brand” when he bit Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic last season but the striker’s first Premier League appearance since his 10-game suspension emphasised that his return promises to do wonders for Brendan Rodgers’s Champions League hopes.
Two comeback goals, one a simple tap in, the other an elegant swipe of the left foot, ensured that Suarez left precisely the right sort of mark on a sunny Wearside afternoon.
Managerless Sunderland did an awful lot right but still remain stuck firmly to the bottom of the table. With one point from six games, Paolo Di Canio’s replacement Kevin Ball could do with being capable of turning water into wine.
Writing in the match programme, Margaret Byrne, Sunderland’s chief executive, suggested that she and her board are keeping their options open as to Di Canio’s successor.
Dismissing much of the media speculation about the new man as “guesswork”, Byrne wrote: “We have already had contact with some interested parties and have others to speak to in the coming days. As soon as we have identified the right person we will make an annoucement … However there is no definitive timescale on an appointment as we are carefully examining all of the options available to us.”
Ball began his audition for a role he covets brightly. His 4-2-3-1 formation seemed well disguised to camouflage Sunderland’s flaws and a starting XI featuring only three of the club’s 14 summer signings offered Liverpool a few early frights. The most notable came when Sebastian Larsson’s free-kick hit the bar with the returning Simon Mignolet for once beaten.
Even so Rodgers’s side very nearly took the lead when Lee Cattermole brought Daniel Sturridge down just outside the box. When Kieren Westwood could only parry Steven Gerrard’s free kick, Martin Skrtel re-directed the rebound beyond the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper but that effort was rightly disallowed for an offside.
Cattermole undeniably galvanised Ball’s team but he was conceding a few too many free-kicks as Liverpool’s 3-5-2 formation – featuring Sunderland old boy Jordan Henderson at right wing back – began stretching the home side.
When Suarez was left in a crumpled heap by Craig Gardner’s robust challenge Sunderland fans hoped the Uruguayan might be removed from the afternoon’s equation. A few grimaces later though and the Uruguyan was back on his feet seeking revenge.
It was not long in coming but before he exacted it with Liverpool’s second goal, Sturridge gave the Merseysiders the lead in somewhat fortuitous circumstances.
Having failed to get his head to Gerrard’s corner, the ball struck the top of the striker’s arm and flew beyond Westwood. It was not deliberate and depending on their angles referee Howard Webb and his linesmen would have assumed Sturridge had nudged what initially looked like a stooping header over the lead but it seemed to serve as microcosm of Sunderland’s pretty wretched luck so far this season.
Suarez’s goal proved refreshingly bereft of controversy. Sturridge’s wonderful change of pace saw him accelerating on to Gerrard’s raking long pass down the right and, with Ball’s defence left standing, the on-rushing Suarez met the forward’s eventual ball across the six yard box. He polished things off courtesy of the simplest of close range shots.
Undone by poor defending, overall Sunderland were not really being outclassed. Pressing Liverpool high up the pitch, they did not deserve to be two goals down on a day when Adam Johnson saw an ambitious curling shot curve fractionally off target and the otherwise unusually shaky Mignolet save brilliantly from Gardner with his legs following Cattermole’s unexpectedly Xavi-esque subtle dinked pass.
Suarez emerged for the new half looking uber inspired with some high calibre touches prompting Liverpool fans to break into a chorus of: “Luis Suárez; he can bite who he wants”.
It took Emanuele Giaccherini to silence them. The Italy winger, redeployed by Ball into a more central attacking role in the trio behind Jozy Altidore, shot Sunderland back into the game from close range after Mignolet – who should have done better – could only parry Ki Sung-yueng’s 25 yard shot. Down in the technical area, Ball pumped his fists.
Mignolet was subsequently required to make an important save from Gardner but continuing to press Rodgers’s team high they remained vulnerable to visiting counter-attacks. Carlos Cuellar was required to make a list minute clearance to deny Suarez and Westwood saved superbly from the defensively impressively Kolo Toure.
The stage was set for Suarez to sweep Liverpool’s third home unerringly and left footed following clever build-up play from Sturridge.