Was Luis Suarez's 2013/14 the greatest ever Premier League season?
Liverpool may have missed out on the Premier League title, but there's little doubt Luis Suarez can look back on the season passed as a job well done. After all, when he looks across at his mantlepiece, he'll now 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 ago it seemed unlikely Suarez would score one Premier League goal for Liverpool this season, let alone 31. Speaking in the wake of the 2012/13 season - one which ended with Liverpool languishing in seventh place and Suarez serving the first four matches of a 10-game ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic - the Uruguayan hinted 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."
For a long time a move to Real Madrid looked on the cards, only for Arsenal to wade in with their now infamous £40,000,001 offer. Against all expectations, 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 only enabled them to focus fully on the Premier League for the next three months. Suarez failed to score in just three of his 12 league matches before Christmas, firing Liverpool to the top of the table. His personal tally at that stage stood at 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 that saw Suarez launch a three-pronged assault on the 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, embarking on a spot of ball juggling before rifling into the bottom corner, and 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 Greg Dyke'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 dove-tailing perfectly, but back-to-back defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea knocked Liverpool off top spot, and wind from the sails of their leading man. Suarez failed to score or make much discernible impact in either match. This led to accusations of flat-track bullyism, but the fact was his goals-scoring 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 Suarez 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 instil new confidence in 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 - Philippe Coutinho's pass deflecting perfectly into his path.
A return to form
Suddenly he was back firing again. He scored the third in a 3-0 win at Manchester United - all but confirming 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 Steven Gerrard and Liverpool fans the pain of again going over what happened next, but despite the heartache that followed, Suarez's season is one to be celebrated, even if talk of 'rehabilitation' following his previous wrong-doing is clearly disingenuous.
In scoring 31 goals in 33 matches, Luis Suarez became the most prolific top scorer in a top-flight season since Jimmy Greaves rattled in 41 in 40 matches for Chelsea in 1960/61. He is only only the seventh player to score 30 or more goals in a single Premier League season; Alan Shearer the only man to do it more than once.
History suggests seasons like the one just enjoyed by Suarez are few and far between. If Liverpool are serious about going one better next time around, tightening things at the other end would seem the logical step.
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