Luis Suarez 2013/14: how the Uruguayan stormed back from suspension to scythe through his competition with Liverpool
Liverpool may have missed out on the Premier League title in 2013/14, but Luis Suarez couldn't have done much more to change that. When he looks across at his mantelpiece he'll see the PFA Player of the Year, Football Writers' Player of the Year and Barclays Fans' Player of the Year awards stood neatly in a line.
Yet 12 months before, it seemed unlikely that Suarez would score one Premier League goal for Liverpool that season, let alone 31. Speaking in the wake of the 2012/13 season - one which ended with Liverpool languishing in seventh and Suarez serving the first four matches of a 10-game ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic - the Uruguayan hinted that he was off.
"I'm happy at Liverpool – I'm happy because of the fans. I made a mistake, I'm human, but they [the English press] have talked about me in ways they shouldn't have," Suarez complained. "My family have suffered and things got out of hand. My daughter and my wife have suffered. I'm not prepared to continue to put up with the English press.
"I love Liverpool, but I suffered too much as a kid to get where I am to be attacked unfairly by the English press. They haven't appreciated me as a player, they've just judged my attitude."
A move to Real Madrid looked on the cards, only for Arsenal to wade in with their infamous £40,000,001 offer. Against all expectations, though, Liverpool were able to hold on to their prized asset, and on September 29 he returned for a League Cup game at Old Trafford.
The Reds were beaten, but that enabled them to focus fully on the Premier League for the next three months. Suarez only failed to score in three of his 12 league matches before Christmas, firing Liverpool to the top of the table. His personal tally at that stage was a dizzying 19 goals in a dozen matches.
That figure was beefed up by a four-goal haul in December's 5-1 home win over Norwich - a match in which Suarez launch a three-pronged assault on the Premier League's goal-of-the-month competition. The striker had the night of his life in front of goal: superbly chipping Norwich keeper John Ruddy from 40 yards; a spot of ball juggling before rifling into the bottom corner; then bending home a glorious, arching free-kick. Even his 'rubbish' goal was a nifty half-volley from an awkwardly-bouncing Steven Gerrard corner.
The goals were flowing like half-baked ideas from Donald Trump's brain, but arguably the biggest change to Suarez's game was the frequency with which he was now looking to set up his team-mates - most notably strike partner Daniel Sturridge. Over the course of the season, Suarez contributed 12 assists - one more than he'd managed in the entirety of his first two-and-a-half years on Merseyside.
Liverpool's 'SAS' were dovetailing perfectly, but back-to-back defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea knocked Liverpool off top spot, and the stuffing out of their leading man. Suarez failed to score or make much discernible impact in either match. It led to dull accusations of flat-track bullying, but the simple reality was that his goalscoring form took a dip across the board as 2014 began. Suarez scored just four goals in the 12 matches between Christmas Day and the end of February - not an awful ratio by general standards, but the Uruguayan had upped the bar.
Fortunately for Brendan Rodgers, his other stars were having no difficulty finding the net, and a 5-1 win over then-leaders Arsenal seemed to breathe new life into a potential title charge. Narrow wins over Fulham and Swansea followed, before Suarez ended a five-game goal drought with a fortunate opener in a 3-0 win at Southampton, when Philippe Coutinho's pass deflected perfectly into his path.
A return to form
Suddenly he was back firing again. Suarez scored the third in a 3-0 win at Manchester United - all but confirming that Liverpool would finish ahead of their hated rivals - before bagging a third hat-trick of the season at Cardiff. Liverpool were scoring goals with almost reckless abandon (perhaps highlighted by some of their defending), and clearly felt they could score enough goals to win any game - not to mention the title.
Suarez scored again in a routine 4-0 win over Spurs, and grabbed his by-now-customary goal at Carrow Road in a 3-2 victory which left Liverpool needing seven points from their last three matches to be certain of the title.
We'll save the pain of going over what happened next again, but despite the heartache that followed, Suarez's season was one to be celebrated – even if talk of 'rehabilitation' following his previous wrongdoing was clearly disingenuous.
In scoring 31 goals in 33 matches, Suarez became the most prolific top scorer in a top-flight season since Jimmy Greaves rattled home 41 in 40 matches for Chelsea in 1960/61 – and he did it having missed five matches of the campaign. He was only the seventh player to score 30 or more goals in a single Premier League season, until Harry Kane and Liverpool's own Mohamed Salah joined him in 2017/18.
"I think there will be more applause than whistles," Suarez said ahead of his return to Anfield in the Champions League semi-finals with Barcelona. "There may be quite a few who are not happy but I think there will be more who are happy and grateful."
It's hard to argue with that.