It was some assertion to make and John Aldridge felt he should pave the way for it. "I am about to pay Luis Suarez a major compliment," he said after watching the player destroy Manchester United a year ago. "The way he plays the game reminds me of the first time I saw Kevin Keegan in the 1970s."
Given that Keegan's name carries John Toshack's in tow at Anfield, no less than Ian St John does Roger Hunt, a genuine sense has surfaced in the four days since Steven Gerrard completed a hat-trick entirely created by the Uruguayan that the club may be witnessing a nascent partnership befitting those of a glorious past. The manager, Kenny Dalglish, however, doused the idea with cold water yesterday.
"If those two are playing together, they have a good understanding of each other because they are two intelligent footballers, but that is not to say those two are on a different planet to nine others," he said. But the symbiotic way they worked their three derby goals creates an unmistakable sense of promise as Dalglish's side seek a quick return to Wembley tomorrow, in their FA Cup quarter-final with Stoke City.
For a club so bound up in the competition's history – seven-time winners – the prospect of an FA Cup final has receded shockingly amid the internal strife of recent years. They are in the last eight for only the second time in 11 seasons and in their first quarter-final since they lifted the trophy in 2006. Dalglish admitted there was a deficit and was yesterday remembering the first of the seven: Hunt and St John scoring for Bill Shankly in the 2-1 win over Leeds United in 1965. "The FA Cup was lost for a long time here," the manager said. "It was Shanks's first trophy that set the club rolling and that's where the momentum started to build."
His new goalscoring partnership has barely had a chance to establish itself. Gerrard and Suarez have started only eight games together, though the captain's ability to operate on a higher footballing plane than any other in his side's midfield means that Liverpool have averaged 2.5 goals per game this season on the six occasions the two have started. That Gerrard, rather than the striker Suarez, should have been the beneficiary of their partnership against Everton on Tuesday night was a curiosity. With an absence of midfielders bursting forward into the box, Suarez has found himself drawn back too much this season, becoming a creator as much as a scorer. There is an argument that he should be more single-minded about the net.
Dalglish will not care too much about the division of labour, given the way that the two began repairing Liverpool's dismal record of scoring from only 24 per cent of the clear-cut chances which statistically generate 50 per cent of all Premier League goals. Suarez's own conversion rate is a meagre 32 per cent. "We see it in training every day," Dalglish said of their understanding. "It's not just the two of them. They all benefit from each other and the better your passing is, the better you retain the ball and the better chance you have of creating chances."
Stoke sat deep and frustrated Liverpool in the 0-0 draw at Anfield in January, having beaten them at the Britannia Stadium, so Liverpool's struggle to find the net may be tested tomorrow. But Dalglish, for whom Glen Johnson and Craig Bellamy are doubts, does have a knack of wringing performances which mean the most to his club's supporters. "For us, the FA Cup set us on a path that everyone that supported Liverpool either then and since has appreciated," he said. "Maybe it has a special place among the hearts of the fans."