The last Liverpool player to score 20 goals in successive seasons was known as “God”. After he emulated Robbie Fowler’s achievement with his latest jaw-dropping free-kick, you wondered what level of divinity Luis Suarez will come to occupy at Anfield.
Fowler and Suarez share an upbringing as street footballers and the blend of brilliance and cheek that Merseyside adores. They also share a wonderful technique. The free-kick that settled this game was struck so well that, no matter how Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor had positioned his wall or where he had stood, the ball would have struck the net with a geometric certainty.
In the year that has just ended, Suarez scored 33 times in as many games and the Kop now so expects goals from free-kicks that when the Uruguayan sent one from 40 yards over the bar, they jeered “What the f*****ng hell was that?” The god grinned back.
“Nine out of 10 players would not have played,” his manager, Brendan Rodgers, said. “He had a bad knock on the top of his foot during the Chelsea game and he had heavy strapping on it. From what I know about footballers, most wouldn’t have played but that’s why Luis gets the goals he does – he is so determined.”
One of Rodgers’ principal achievements is to give Anfield its aura back. In 2012, it was a fortress that had been taken down brick by brick. Liverpool had won just half a dozen league games there in the calendar year. In 2013, Rodgers more than doubled that figure and remarked that he wanted opponents to come here fearing “the longest 90 minutes of their lives”.
Rodgers called it the “best win of our season”. It seemed a strange analysis but Liverpool had endured a draining Christmas that had seen them lose at Manchester City and Chelsea. They were facing a Hull side that had beaten them on Humberside a month ago and had won their last game 6-0. Here, they did not manage a single shot on target.
Hull manager Steve Bruce had celebrated his 53rd birthday on New Year’s Eve but it was the need to play three games in six days that had really drained him.
He managed to raise a smile by putting his hood over his mop of curly grey hair when the Kop launched into its usual chant of “Steve Bruce has got a big, fat head” but that was the last of the laughs.
Naturally as a one-time centre-half, conceding a goal from a corner stung. It was delivered by Philippe Coutinho and met by the head of Daniel Agger. Jordan Henderson swung a boot at it and so did Maynor Figueroa on the line. Both missed and Liverpool found themselves a goal up. Since Suarez’s header in similar circumstances had been disallowed for offside, Hull had been warned.
The only surprise was that Liverpool, Coutinho in particular, did not score more. His run from the halfway line, the way he beat three defenders, was Brazilian to the core. Only brave keeping from McGregor prevented a Maracana-style finish.
Liverpool: (4-2-3-1) Mignolet 6; Johnson 5 (Toure 55 5), Skrtel 7, Agger 7, Cissokho 6; Lucas Leiva 6; Henderson 7; Suarez 7, Coutinho 7, Sterling 6 (Moses 76); Aspas 5 (Gerrard 62 5). Substitutes: Jones (g), Luis Alberto, Kelly. Booked: Suarez
Hull City: (4-5-1) McGregor 7; Chester 6, Bruce 6, Davies 6, Figueroa 6; Elmohamady 5, Livermore 6, Huddlestone 7, Koren 5 (Graham 58 5), Meyler 5 (Boyd 58 5); Sagbo 5 (Fryatt 58 5). Substitutes: Harper (g), Rosenior, Faye, Quinn. Booked: Bruce, Davies.
Referee: Craig Pawson
Match rating: 6/10
Man of the match: Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)