A thought occurred to me during Liverpool’s 4-0 humiliation of Tottenham Sunday in the Premier League – a win which pushed the Reds (temporarily) atop the table with six matches remaining. In a blink of an eye Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s sensational forward, has transformed from a potentially racist, opponent-biting scoundrel into the most exciting player in the Premier League. This isn’t really that ground-breaking news considering Suarez has played like a man possessed ever since serving his 10-match ban for chomping on Branislav Ivanovic on April 21, 2013.
Anyways, Suarez scored again on Sunday pushing his total to 29 goals in 27 games. It puts him within two goals of tying Cristiano Ronaldo and Alan Shearer for the all-time EPL single-season record. All the more impressive, Suarez didn’t make his Premier League debut until Sept. 29 vs. Sunderland — of course the delay was due to his own stupidity, which likely cost him an attempt at a 40-goal campaign.
As a neutral or someone who simply enjoys watching quality soccer, it’s been a weird transformation. A year ago, for all his talents, it was still pretty easy to come up with reasons to dislike or hate Suarez. With each passing game it becomes harder-and-harder to find ways to disparage his transcendent season, even if you’re an avowed Evertonian. The best comparison I can think of is LeBron James stepping his game up to another level of greatness, making everyone forget about the dumb narrative that developed post “Decision.” (In fairness: the “Decision” pales in comparison to the negative headlines in Suarez’s past.)
It’s gotten to the point you turn on a Liverpool game expecting Suarez to do something amazing with almost every touch. Headers from outside the box, volleys from midfield, free kicks, everything and anything could be a goal from the Uruguayan this season. It’s been so much fun we don’t even hear about the other side of Suarez anymore, for better or worse.
Going back through the recesses of my brain, it’s hard to think of a player over the last decade putting his stamp on a season like Suarez in the Premier League. Ronaldo certainly had his moments of sustained brilliance for Manchester United before moving to Real Madrid in 2009 but for whatever the reason my mind associates the Portuguese star’s best moments in red coming during the Red Devils forays into the Champions League. Thierry Henry’s brilliance helped him win four EPL Golden Boots and lead Arsenal to a pair of league crowns, but the peak of his powers was, admittedly, a little before my time as a serious observer of the league. Didier Drogba compiled some excellent seasons at Stamford Bridge, too, but nobody likes rooting for Chelsea. Gareth Bale played a star time-in, time-out at Spurs but for all the Welshman’s heroics it never pushed Spurs to the top of the table like Suarez has for Liverpool.
Still, if — and it’s a big if — Suarez breaks the all-time EPL scoring mark and helps Liverpool fend off both Manchester City and Cheslea for the club’s first title of the Premier League era it has to go down as an all-time great, if not best, individual season this century.
The other nice part about Suarez’s season is that you don’t need a million new-age soccer metrics to prove his greatness. This isn’t trying to troll stat-inclined folks or people who draw hommeade heat maps. All you really need to do is watch Suarez with your own two eyes — crazy thought right — to draw your own conclusions.
Stats in soccer do, however, remain primitive compared to most North American pro sports. Whichever way you want to look at it 29 goals in 27 games on 153 shots is fairly amazing. Even more incredible, Suarez has piled up those goals without the benefit of a penalty kick. The more amazing stat is that despite Suarez being Liverpool’s go-to scorer, Daniel Sturridge has still piled up 20 league goals for the Reds. Oh right, he also leads the Prem in assists with 11.
In short, Suarez has made Liverpool’s 2013-14 season appointment viewing. Be sure to circle your calendars for April 13 when Liverpool plays Manchester City and April 24 when the Reds take on Chelsea. You might hate Suarez the person or character, but if you hate his game why are you bothering to watch soccer in the first place?
Okay, in fairness, if you’re an Arsenal fan it’s probably impossible to watch Suarez score goal-after-goal since the Gunners summer bid for the Urguayan star fell through. Had Suarez moved to the Emirates there’s a very good chance the title would be on its way to North London.