By Toby Davis
LONDON, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Liverpool's hopes of grabbing a first victory at Tottenham Hotspur in five years, like their chances of finishing in the top four or mounting an unlikely title challenge, rest squarely on the shoulders of Luis Suarez.
Since returning from a 10-game ban, the Uruguayan has showcased all of the good and none of the bad or ugly sides of his game, confounding his critics in the process and rewarding fans who stood by him when he tested their patience.
If goals alone were the benchmark of a player's impact then Suarez's 15 strikes in 10 games would make him the Premier league's most potent force. His goalscoring ratio is unsurpassed in any of Europe's big leagues.
Yet it is his added ability to conjure moments of individual brilliance and single-handedly pick apart the opposition that make him an indispensable presence in Brendan Rodgers's Liverpool team.
"I stop and think 'wow' every day in training," defender Kolo Toure said of his team mate on the club website (www.liverpoolfc.com).
"He scores unbelievable goals all the time in training so we shouldn't really be surprised by what we see him do in matches."
The 'wow' factor has been reproduced regularly in recent weeks. Four goals against Norwich City and two more against West Ham United in his last two games had Rodgers drooling that he would not swap Suarez for any player in the world.
His performances are all the more notable given the way he finished the last campaign and sulked his way through the pre-season.
Banned for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic in April, Suarez sought to escape Anfield and let the club know he was pining for a move to rivals Arsenal.
The club stood firm and have been richly rewarded.
Suarez is at heart of the positivity currently surrounding Liverpool, with fans feeling confident enough to talk about a return to the Champions League and whispering under their breath about a potential assault on the title.
Second in the table, five points behind leaders Arsenal, those Premier League credentials will come under scrutiny at White Hart Lane.
Suarez, who has scored the same amount of goals as sixth-place Tottenham's entire team, will need to be at the peak of his powers if Liverpool are to get a first win in seven trips to Spurs.
Accusations that Liverpool are a one-man team, will be brought into sharper focus in the absence of the injured Daniel Sturridge, with nine goals this season, and hamstrung captain Steven Gerrard, their most influential creator.
Without the financial muscle of Chelsea or Manchester City, Rodgers's squad is still under construction and they lack stand-ins of the quality to match those ruled out.
Gerrard's absence means 15 million pounds ($24.5 million)signing Joe Allen is likely to be given an opportunity to thrive in the centre of midfield without as many defensive responsibilities.
He has sat on the sidelines as Liverpool have begun the season well. Yet should he need an example of how to bide your time and wait for your chance he could have a word in the ear of defender Martin Skrtel.
Skrtel found himself out of the team in the second half of last season and kicking his heels on the bench at the start of the current campaign.
He got a chance to impress in the home win over Manchester United in September and has since started every game, with Rodgers hailing him as one of the best in the business.
"Last year I felt he was rash and made mistakes. Now he's arguably one of the best centre-halves in the Premier League," Rodgers said in the club's magazine.
"He's composed, he looks bigger on the pitch and he's been brilliant during this run he's had in the team, so hopefully that will continue. He's another international captain who's still improving."
($1 = 0.6125 British pounds) (editing by Ed Osmond)
- Sports & Recreation
- Luis Suarez
- Tottenham Hotspur
- Brendan Rodgers