During His Liverpool Prime, Luis Suárez Was The Best Player The Premier League Has Ever Seen
The rise of social media has been incredible for sports fans for a variety reasons, most notably the ability to stir up memories of obscure players randomly making exceptional plays.
This network of nostalgia is great for the soul, but the consequence is that players with a catalog that includes a couple of great goals suddenly become hyped beyond belief — which in turn often causes us to forget truly how great the top players were.
No, Andrey Arshavin and Dmitri Payet were not, and will not, be considered among the best Premier League players ever, but if sports media pages continuously post highlights of Arshavin's four-goal game against Liverpool or Payet's physics-breaking free kick against Crystal Palace, the perception of these players will be skewed
The streets can never forget these players if you don't stop posting about them.
These classic great goal clips can also reduce a world-class player into a one-trick pony. One such case is Luis Suárez's awe-inspiring tenure at Liverpool.
The Uruguayan is remembered for his incredible goals from inconceiveable distances, and rightly so. But it was not just his ability to score from distance that made Suárez special; it was his all-around mastery of creating goals for his team from anywhere on the pitch that made him the most dominant player the Premier League has ever seen.
A $29 million purchase from Ajax in 2011, Suárez's breakthrough season was 2012-13, when the Uruguayan recorded 23 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League. But the moment Suárez truly arrived in England came on a damp April afternoon near the end of the previous campaign.
Although Liverpool finished eighth under manager Kenny Dalglish in an underwhelming 11-12 campaign, Reds fans were treated to the first of many sensational performances from Suárez when their side took on Norwich City during matchweek 36.
A precise left-footed finish from Suárez put Liverpool up 1-0 in the 24th minute, and the Uruguayan doubled his goal tally just minutes later when his fizzing shot from a tight angle found the bottom of the side netting at John Ruddy's far post.
Now a goal away from a hat trick, Suárez's attempts became even more audacious. In the 64th minute, Suárez picked up a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area and nutmegged Norwich center back Ryan Bennett, but his attempted chip cleared the crossbar.
The Uruguayan would complete his hat trick in the 82nd minute with a stunning goal that capped off a perfect perfomance. Norwich defender Elliott Ward failed to deal with a Liverpool clearance on the halfway line, allowing Suárez to gather and lob the ball over the head of Norwich keeper John Ruddy from a full 50 or so yards away.
That match was the first of three hat tricks that Suárez scored against Norwich, as the striker recorded 12 goals and three assists in six career matches against the Canaries, but it also marked the beginning of Suárez's reign over the Premier League that would extend until his departure to Barcelona in the summer of 2014.
Starting with his first hat trick against Norwich, Suárez tallied 57 goals and 17 assists over the next two years. In 2013-14, the Uruguayan totaled 31 goals — tying Alan Shearer's single-season record (in a 38-game season) — and added 12 assists, all despite missing the first five games of the season through suspension.
His WhoScored? season rating of 8.43 (/10) in 2013-14 is the highest in the league since the website started tracking it back in 09-10.
But it was not just the number of goals Suárez scored that made him so prolific, it was the sheer difficulty of his strikes that made him so hard to defend. The Liverpool striker led the Premier League in 13-14 with seven goals from outside the penalty area and was frequently able to score from the most unlikely of angles and positions.
The peak of his goal-scoring form in the Premier League came during a four-match run in December of 2013, beginning with an unparalleled four-goal showing against Norwich City. Two of the goals were the product of pure footballing genius combined with the confidence of a player who believed he could score from anywhere on the pitch.
Suárez opened the scoring in the 15th minute when he ran on to a bouncing ball and hit a dipping first-time strike that flew over the head of the helpless John Ruddy in goal. His second goal was a proper poacher's finish, a one-time hit with his weaker left foot on a bouncing corner kick on the edge of the six-yard area.
The former Ajax man finished off his hat trick with a full 10 minutes to play in the first half. After using his chest to control a high lay-off from Raheem Sterling, Suárez continued his dribble, flicked the ball around the front of his defender and then collected on the other side to hit a wicked half-volley into the side netting at the far post.
His fourth goal, an accurate, curling free kick from 25 yards out, was anti-climatic, but nonetheless a fitting conclusion for his dominant showing and a reflection of the extensive variety of goals he could score.
Suárez continued his potent goal-scoring run with braces against West Ham, Spurs and Cardiff City to finish off a four-match stretch where he had 10 goals and four assists — contributing directly to 14 of Livepool's 17 goals during this stretch.
Even his misses made the highlight reel because of the recklessness of his attempts on goal. Suárez took shots that no player would even think about attempting, either through lack of confidence or fear of castigation from their manager.
It was as if Suárez was playing a game in the streets with his friends; instead he was competing in the packed stadiums of the world's most popular football league.
The best goal that never was?Is there a goal that didn't happen that you think would have been one of the greatest ever if it had actually gone in?
This from Luis Suarez would have been ridiculous.pic.twitter.com/KxSUVKxDoQ
— Classic Football Shirts (@classicshirts) March 31, 2021
Suárez is not the only attacker to have an extended period of dominance in the Premier League. Alan Shearer still holds the record for most goals in Premier League history in a season (both in the 42- and 38-game format). Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the best player to have spent time in England. Thierry Henry is still the only player to reach 20 goals and 20 assists in a season while Robin van Persie had consecutive years with 25+ goals and double-digit assists.
But no player has ever been as prolific over a two-season period as Suárez was between 2012 and 2014.
Suárez scored 31 goals in a season while missing five games and not taking penalties. Liverpool penalty taker Steven Gerrard scored 10 times from the spot in 2013-14; so factoring in Suárez as a regular penalty-taker and assuming that Suárez's goal-scoring and assist rate carried over to the five matches that he missed, then he could have reached a total of 46 goals and 14 assists for the season.
Suárez achieved this under much more difficult circumstances than his competitors too.
He did not have the benefit of playing with Arsenal's Invincible's like Thierry Henry, van Persie's Man United side that won the league by 10 points, or those mid-2000s Man United squads that won three EPL titles in a row (plus four other trophies in that three-year period).
Instead, Suárez had an aging Steven Gerrard, injury-prone Daniel Sturridge (Suárez and Sturridge played just 24 EPL together in 2013-14), pre-stardom Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling and a worse defense than 11th-place Crystal Palace.
The Uruguayan striker also did not have the chance to pad his goal totals with penalties like Shearer or Ronaldo.
Instead, he took a Liverpool side that finished seventh the previous season and nearly willed them to a first league title in nearly three decades. Suárez was the main reason Liverpool set a club record for most goals scored in the top flight in 13-14.
Suárez will likely be remembered more for his prolific time at Barcelona (40 league goals in 2015-16) or his unfortunate biting incidents, and his Liverpool tenure is often reduced to his highlight reel of goals from distance, but the Uruguayan truly commanded the Premier League unlike any player before or after him ever has.
And he did it without a team of galacticos around him and without the luxury of padding his stats with penalties.
He was a goal creator, pure and simple; whether he was finding the back of the net himself or setting up teammates, Liverpool-era Luis Suárez could be be contained.