Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, believes he has the Player of the Year in Luis Suarez and hopes the striker can lead his team on a late-season charge.
The Uruguay international has scored 25 goals this season, 18 of them in the league, to put him one behind Manchester United's Robin van Persie and three ahead of Tottenham's Gareth Bale – both contenders for this season's award. He is two away from becoming the first Liverpool player to score 20 league goals in a campaign since Fernando Torres five seasons ago.
Suarez will start his 90th match for the Reds against Wigan tomorrow and Rodgers believes the player's recent record compares to the best. In his first 45 games Suarez managed just 16 goals, but he has scored 30 in his last 44 appearances.
Asked who he would pick as Player of the Year, Rodgers said: "I couldn't look much further than Luis Suarez. He has been phenomenal – that is not just an opinion as his manager. This is a guy who had to play alone up front because he was the only striker we had for nearly six months and never missed a day's training and played every minute of every game. He has been absolutely outstanding."
The burden on Suarez has been eased by January's £12million signing of Daniel Sturridge, who has scored four Premier League goals in five games. Rodgers thinks their partnership, which has blossomed quickly, will make a difference in the final months of the season.
"They are two top players but they have got different qualities and different strengths," he added.
"You have seen Luis – his cleverness and his movement and his intensity. When I came in everyone was talking about his finishing, how many chances he missed and whatnot but you look at his conversion rate this year. He has been brilliant. He is a terrific focal point for the team.
"Daniel is a different type. He is hungry for goals, wants to play on the shoulder and his movement is really good. People will associate him with pace and power and running ability and shooing ability but when both of them play in and around each other, they find space really well.
"With Daniel, you have got that possibility to play in behind and penetrate and go over the top and in between and when he is away he is very hard to catch because he is so fast.
"That partnership is growing all the time and it is pleasing to see."
With Chelsea faltering and Arsenal and Everton failing to put down a marker for a Champions League place, there is still an outside chance a late run could close the 10-point gap. But Rodgers knows the pitfalls of talking up a top-four challenge.
"We have got 11 games to go and our only focus is on ourselves – we just look at our next game," he said.
"We have been brilliant at times and inconsistent at others. If we can come up with that consistency it will provide a springboard for next season.
"Finish this season as strong as we possibly can, as high as we can, and we'll be in a much better place come the summer to really push on."Reuse content