When, before the game, he was asked for the easy quote, the one that would condemn Luis Suarez as a cheat, Alan Pardew hesitated. No, said the Newcastle manager, Suarez was a fabulous player “worth a highlights package on his own”. Here yesterday the Uruguayan delivered not just a package but a whole programme.
This was not Luis Suarez versus Newcastle but sometimes it felt like it. Liverpool supporters used to talk of “having a team of Carraghers” as the ultimate in commitment. A team of Suarezes would be a considerable improvement on the one Brendan Rodgers currently manages, although it might not finish every game with 11 men.
The irony was that yesterday Suarez was the victim. Six minutes from the end, Fabricio Coloccini raked his studs down the back of the striker’s legs in a tackle fuelled by frustration and spite. From the television studio, the Wales manager, Chris Coleman, called it “a coward’s challenge”. It was not dissimilar to the foul inflicted by Suarez on Sylvain Distin in the Merseyside derby which was not answered by a red card.
Having already lost Cheick Tioté to suspension and seeing Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and James Perch withdrawn here through injury, Newcastle, who have not won away since beating Chelsea in May, can ill afford to lose their captain for three fixtures.
The struggle between the Argentine and the Uruguayan had the taste of the River Plate about it and it had been comprehensively won by Suarez, not least when a 70-yard ball from Luis Enrique struck him on the crest of his shirt.
Coloccini was in pursuit but Suarez controlled the ball beautifully, made to go one way and, in an instant, rounded Tim Krul and passed into an empty net. It is a goal Diego Maradona would have recognised.
And yet Liverpool should not be a team that revolves around a single player. In the spring of 1981, before his home island of Antigua staged its first Test match, Viv Richards went over to Geoff Boycott and said he fancied himself to score a century. When Boycott asked why, Richards replied “because you have only one fast bowler” and sauntered off. Replace “fast bowler” with “striker” and you understand why some teams might be confident of facing Liverpool if they continue to over-rely on Suarez.
Rodgers described the performance as “outstanding” and “superb” – which in many ways it was. Sky calculated that Liverpool put together 523 passes and had 64 per cent of possession.
However, you can play it like Stoke or you can play it like Barcelona, but football is about scoring goals – everything else is propaganda. In every aspect bar one, Liverpool were a better side than Newcastle. In terms of corner kicks it was 14-3, but in terms of goals, the only currency that matters, it was 1-1. There are no marks for artistic merit.
Newcastle also possessed a cutting edge that Liverpool simply lacked. Pardew had suggested that Hatem Ben Arfa had something of Suarez’s instinctive brilliance about him. Certainly, he had scored fabulously at Everton a couple of years ago but, bar one move, his touch here seemed too heavy and his control too loose.
However, he produced what Pardew thought was the goal that should have seen him become the first Newcastle manager since Kevin Keegan in 1994 to celebrate a league win at Anfield.
It was every bit as good as Suarez’s. The boy from Marseilles was so tight to the byline that he would almost have felt the breath of the Kop as he crossed deep to the back of the area. Cabaye controlled it with his knee, took it down and drove it almost through Brad Jones’ gloves and into the net. The Newcastle fans in the Anfield Road end seethed with passion and disbelief. They had not seen a goal here from a Newcastle player since Patrick Kluivert’s eight years ago.
Liverpool simply seethed, especially since Andre Wisdom, whose foul throw had begun the move, ducked slightly as Cabaye’s shot sped towards him, giving his goalkeeper a very late sight of the ball.
During the interval, one of the mains that supplies Anfield’s sprinklers burst, sending water pouring into the directors’ box. Sadly for the comic possibilities of the situation, John W Henry, the man who has seen more than £100m poured away, mostly on players for whom Liverpool have no further use, was not present to receive a more literal kind of soaking.
Suarez, the man he did sanction a £20m bid for and whom he resisted the temptation to sell in the wake of the racism scandal, did turn the tide and not just with the equaliser. A free-kick delivered in stoppage time struck Papiss Cissé and looped on to the top of the crossbar. Earlier, he had broken away and sent through Raheem Sterling, who was denied by a brilliant sliding block from Steven Taylor. Ultimately it was not enough, though: one-man shows seldom are.
Steven Gerrard, who celebrated his 600th appearance for Liverpool with a statuette of a liver bird and a strangely below-par performance, would know that. Time and again Gerrard has rescued his boyhood club to win them European trophies and FA Cups as well as Anfield’s undying loyalty. Suarez already has Liverpool’s love, although whether he wins them any silverware is more open to question.
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