(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Just a few months ago, Liverpool fans were hurling vitriol Luis Suarez’s way for publicly expressing his desire to leave Liverpool, and Brendan Rodgers was taking plaudits for the way he handled Suarez’s ultimate stay at Liverpool.
So for most Liverpool fans—and Rodgers himself, who has been full of praise about the quality, inventiveness and importance of the No. 7—Suarez’s fine current form is a welcome scenario and probably something that not many envisioned would still be taking place every week at Anfield.
Indeed, Suarez’s latest magician’s act on Saturday, with a thrilling hat trick against West Bromwich Albion, reaffirmed his fast rise as Liverpool hero again, and with six goals in just four league games, he’s quickly propelling himself up the league scorers’ chart, despite having had a delayed start due to his suspension.
Brendan Rodgers said after the match that he substituted his star striker—for that is what Suarez is, despite the continued protestations of top scorer Daniel Sturridge—so he could get an ovation from the supporters, according to ESPN, and continued his recent claims that Suarez is “better off” at Liverpool, after the public flirtations with Arsenal this summer.
And the way things are shaping up, Brendan Rodgers’ reign at Anfield—he’s almost halfway into his initial three-year contract—will be dependent on Suarez’s future at the club.
After several rounds of chopping and changing, and a few performances that delivered three points despite not playing in the fluid way we know his team could, Rodgers has, for now, settled on a variation of a 3-5-2 formation. (B/R’s Karl Matchett has more on the newly flipped midfield triangle and its importance in Liverpool’s most convincing display of the season.)
As Jamie Carragher pointed out in an absorbing analysis on Sky Sports, this 3-5-2 system allows Liverpool to play two of the league’s most devastating and in-form strikers up front and lets Sturridge and Suarez (now termed “SAS”) get right in the throats of opposing defenders.
And as soon as Suarez returned to the team, his form was too unstoppable to make him droppable, which was the reason Rodgers arrived at this formation in the first place. That Glen Johnson and Philippe Coutinho, on paper perfect fits for such a formation, were injured at the time were of no concern to Rodgers: SAS was simply too mouthwatering a prospect to not implement ahead of a fully fit squad.
We’ll leave the discussion of Coutinho’s role in a 1-2 midfield to a later time (and to get things started, check out Matchett’s article linked earlier in this piece), but SAS are so crucial to Liverpool’s successes this season that it’s nearly impossible to envision a starting XI at Anfield without the pair up front (except, of course, if injury strikes).
All’s well and good—and Liverpool are only third in the league table because of goal difference—but suddenly, just a few months after the possibility of weaning themselves off Suarez’s consistently distracting PR disasters, the club find themselves ever more dependent on the maverick Uruguayan forward.
Because, as has been made so apparent across all channels, it’s Suarez’s movement and unpredictability that allow Sturridge to go at defenders and do his own damage (and vice versa). It’s Suarez’s sheer presence that compels opponents to direct their attentions toward him and allows Sturridge to flourish. It’s Suarez’s partnership and telepathic understanding with Sturridge that allows the latter to continue his meteoric development and maturation into a world-class striker.
And it’s only just the beginning.
It’s been well-documented that Liverpool need to return to the Champions League, and that this season is almost the perfect opportunity for them to achieve it, with the unpredictability of rival teams around them.
It’s also been well-documented that Liverpool needed Suarez all along to actually achieve their long-standing goal of getting back into the Premier League top four. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that they need Suarez to lead the line as one half of SAS to take them to the Promised Land.
But they also need Champions League football to secure Suarez’s long-term future at Liverpool Football Club. A player of his stature and ability could easily make a bigger and more instant impact at, say, Real Madrid than a certain world-record signing from north London.
Suffice it to say that Brendan Rodgers knows this. So while he adopted his hard-line stance in accordance with his bosses at Fenway Sports Group in the summer on Luis Suarez’s rumored departure, he’s turned his attentions to praising Suarez to the hilt since his return to first-team action.
Of course, Suarez’s excellent form and seemingly improved behavior on the pitch have helped things massively, but Rodgers’ Anfield legacy rests largely on Suarez’s future at the club. He finds himself in that curious dichotomy that he and Liverpool need Suarez more than he needs them, and keeping him in the summer only intensified such a one-way relationship.
Fail to qualify for the Champions League, and Luis Suarez may well leave for pastures new. And Rodgers would have to rebuild his side with just one half of SAS, starting nearly from scratch and competing against a formidable set of opponents in the Premier League for signings of Suarez’s influence and caliber.
By then, Rodgers would only have one year left on his contract. And Liverpool’s plans to return to the best club competition in the world will have been delayed yet again.
If he succeeds in bringing Champions League football back to Anfield, however, a Luis Suarez hungry to prove himself at that level with Liverpool could be just the start of a very beautiful symbiotic synergy with Rodgers in the position to fully harness it. If.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and other Premier League-related matters.