Since returning to action at the end of September, Luis Suarez has scored a jaw-dropping 17 goals in 11 league matches. If he were to somehow maintain his current pace, Suarez would break the 50 goal barrier and shatter the Premier League record of 34 goals in a season held by Alan Shearer and Andrew Cole. And, for the first time yesterday, he was handed Liverpool's captaincy in league play.
"Today I took the armband, but the team played very well and that is more important to me than being the captain," Suarez told Sky Sports when the broadcaster interviewed Liverpool's substitute skipper in the tunnel following Sunday's 5-0 drubbing of Spurs. "I try my best on the pitch. I'm the striker and I play all the time to help the squad, but today the most important thing was the performance of the team."
There had been doubts when it came to handing Suarez the captaincy given his public flirtations with Real Madrid and Arsenal over the summer, but it would be impossible to fault his performances since returning to action for Liverpool this season. His 17 goals in 11 games may get the headlines, and another two-goal performance on Sunday won't do anything to lessen those, but his team play has been at least as worthy of note.
What's been most impressive isn't just the way Suarez has led the league in scoring—with better than a goal and a half per match on average, he's recording similar numbers to his days with Ajax in the Eredivisie—it's how often he helps to build play and how often he looks to set up his teammates. Far from the selfish striker cliche, Suarez is managing to set the scoring pace in England while also frequently looking to set up his teammates.
Against Tottenham, having taken on the captaincy in Gerrard's place and ahead of seemingly more likely options like Lucas Leiva and Glen Johnson, he set up goals by two of his teammates and was heavily involved in the play leading to a third. His opening goal came after he tried to play Jordan Henderson through. He set up Philippe Coutinho for a pair of chances that on another night could easily have gone in.
“I told Luis two days ago that he would be captain,” said Brendan Rodgers when asked about his decision following the match, highlighting Suarez' forceful performances this season as the reason why he made the surprising choice. “I wanted somebody who would represent me, and the club, even in the tunnel before the game. When you look at Luis Suarez, stood with that armband on, you know that this is a team that is going to fight.”
Despite his impassioned play and free scoring ways, for supporters it has been easy to feel largely distant from Suarez this season. Or at least it has been. With Liverpool seeming well positioned to push for the top four and Suarez showing nearly as much joy in creating for his teammates as himself—and at times even more, as with his enthusiastic celebration of Jon Flanagan's first senior goal—it's becoming harder not to become reinvested in Luis Suarez, at least a little bit.
If it ends with Suarez pushing Liverpool to a top four finish with one of the great individual seasons in Premier League history, though, then that might not be such a bad thing from the fan perspective. It may be hard to ever completely banish some of the doubts surrounding Suarez and his past, but his performances and demeanour have done what would have seemed impossible a few short months ago—making them seem, or at least start to seem, as though they might matter just a little less.
"We played well in the first half and then in the second half we were well-positioned," Suarez added. "We know in December that we have some very big games, but the win is very good for our confidence. When you play badly, you try to forget it quickly. When we lost against Hull, we knew that we played very badly. We had two chances after that when we played at home, and now we have won here. It gives us more confidence for the rest of the season."
Confidence can be hard to earn and all too easy to lose. On current form, though, it would be hard to say this Liverpool side haven't earned a bit of confidence in their ability. And though it would have to take a transfer window or two to be certain, after losing the confidence of the vast majority of Liverpool fans, just maybe Luis Suarez has begun to earn a little of it back as well.