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A Remarkable Turnaround

In what has been one of the most comprehensive reputation rehabilitations of recent times, Luis Suarez has gone from reviled cannibalistic cheat to being acknowledged as a worthy PFA Player of the Year. His manager, Brendan Rodgers, is duly impressed.

No matter how hard he studied The Master, Brendan couldn't get the JMo eye-gouge right. Luis, however, saw only a snack
No matter how hard he studied The Master, Brendan couldn't get the JMo eye-gouge right. Luis, however, saw only a snack
Jan Kruger

Gloriously absurd, isn't it? Silly season, I mean. Liverpool sit proudly atop the league with a brace of fixtures remaining, Luis Suarez is the meritorious PFA Player of the Year with Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge in the same awarding body's Team of the Year and yet the the narrative is not about the existing stars that have brought the club to this most laudable of positions, but rather the ones currently contracted to other clubs who may soon don the Liverbird. You want to talk about how Liverpool may still win their first title in two and a half decades? You'd like to focus on how the events of the next fortnight may eclipse anything you've ever experienced as a fan? Well tough, because, well, Adam Lallana Yehvhen Konoplyanka Emre Can.

If you will indulge me, kind readers, we shall retain a narrower focus for now. The utter devastation of the loss to the Chelsea charges of gilet fancier and cover star of Hobo Weekly, Jose Mourinho, has only now started to abate a little in the troubled soul of your scribbler. How wretched that was, how utterly, remote-control destroyingly disquieting it felt. To endure the precious control over the biggest of prizes being wrested away by that most infuriatingly Machiavellian of creatures was indeed an excruciating experience. When Manchester City then rediscovered their ruthless streak immediately afterwards, Sunday evening felt particularly apocalyptic inside the tiny mind of your beleaguered scribbler.

The groggy desolation that lay heavily on some of us as Monday morning dawned was worse than any booze-induced hangover. For a moment or so we considered the very real option of pulling that duvet back over our addled heads and simply refusing to engage with a reality that would feature a host of grinning idiots making various execrable puns about slipping and a barrage of suspiciously gleeful media outlets crowing about a title race having been blown wide open -- they love a good cliché, those lads. Stoically, we eschewed the easy option and faced these horrors valiantly and, as the day wore on, a different kind of reality started to crystallize in our minds.

Liverpool are still top of the league. If Brendan Rodgers' men can take six points from the two games that remain, the very least that will happen is that they finish the season with the same points as the winners. That's frankly remarkable. The aforementioned talk of top players has been kick-started by the fact that the Redmen will once again grace Europe's flagship competition next season. The apparently lofty ambitions of the summer have been easily surpassed and we have watched the most exhilarating team in the top flight batter their rivals over and over again, playing the most beguiling football seen from an Anfield side since Kenny Dalglish's sublime side of the late Eighties.

As a draining campaign reaches it's conclusion, the comparative shallowness of Liverpool's squad has started to show. In recent weeks, there has been no shortage of character or effort but two narrow wins and an unfortunate reversal have highlighted a notable lack of the vibrancy and effusive energy that has characterised the team's efforts to date. When Daniel Sturridge is injured the fall-off in attacking talent that can replace him is dramatic. When the perpetual motion machine that is Jordan Henderson is suspended, there is a vital ingredient missing from the heady cocktail. This should not be read as a slight on the excellent Joe Allen, the dogged Lucas Leiva or even the hapless Iago Aspas -- it is more a reflection of how far ahead of schedule Rodgers' team is in comparison to the comparative strength of the squad he is working with.

Luis Suarez has been pivotal to everything good that has happened for Liverpool in this campaign. His sinewy, relentless running, his merciless hounding of defenders, his disproportionate strength and his otherwordly finishing have been the truly outstanding aspect of a magnificent period for the Redmen. With Suarez on top form, Liverpool fear nobody and expect to beat everybody. At times this season, his play has been every bit the equal of Messi and Ronaldo, making him arguably the most effective player across all of the top leagues.

Alas, on the day that he received his well-earned PFA Player of the Year award, the Uruguayan had one of his least effective displays for the club but if anyone is capable of reversing a downturn in form it is Suarez and he will need to be at his brilliant best against Crystal Palace and Newcastle, if Liverpool are to stand a chance of finishing the season as champions. One way or the other, Rodgers is confidently looking forward to playing Champions League football with the arm epicurean leading his attack. Indeed, the manager claims that qualification for that competition was central to the player's future and a fitting reward for his efforts.

"That was key to it," Rodgers averred. "For players like that, it’s important that they can play at the big level. I’ve watched Champions League football all my coaching life and I’ve been to matches this season, both here and in Europe, and I’ve thought that a player of Luis Suarez’s ability has to be playing at this level. His loyalty in staying at Liverpool, to continue to fight for the club to get us there, is remarkable really. Hopefully he gets the rewards for that with those big European nights next season. I think it’s a remarkable turnaround for a player who has been vilified -- and some may see he brought it on himself  -- but it’s great to see someone change and to be stood up there getting this award."

There is a certain amount of creative revisionism at play in any talk about the player's 'loyalty' last September, but such hand-wringing is firmly in the past and for now all Liverpool fans want to do is see this most artistic, guileful and explosive of footballers scoring a hatfull against the charges of noted naked brawler,Tony Pulis, and unfortunate beard sporter, Alan Pardew.  This season, so endlessly surprising, may yet have a shock or two to bestow upon us. Luis Suarez may yet win the league for the Liverpool.

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