There was a handshake with his manager, Brendan Rodgers, as both men smiled, then Luis Suarez headed down the tunnel. The contrast to 21 April could not have been greater. Then, the live pitch-side camera was chasing the Uruguayan as he walked off the field at Anfield. He had bitten an opponent. A storm brewed.
There is a long road to any sort of redemption, but scoring two goals yesterday in this win against a Sunderland team still trying to re-group after their recent managerial upheaval, was as much as he, or Rodgers, could possibly have hoped for on his first game back in the Premier League, after five months in which he flirted pretty strongly with an Anfield exit.
Those goals were a reminder of why the patience at Liverpool for the errant Suarez is so great.
In the build-up to his return in the Capital One Cup tie at Manchester United, Rodgers deliberated over how to exactly describe the character of the forward. “It’s robust,” he said. That feels about right as well.
In his time off during that 10-game ban, when his return varied between unlikely to implausible, Suarez seems to have been busy making vests.
That much became apparent when he scored his two goals, raising his team shirt on each occasion to reveal a different vest each time.
The first unveiling came on 36th minutes after the Uruguayan went down on one knee to convert a low cross from Daniel Sturridge. In celebration he lifted his shirt up to reveal a vest with a picture of his new-born son Benjamin along with the words “Welcome Benja Los Amo” (with love).
As for the goal, further mention here must go to the 60-yard crossfield ball from Steven Gerrard. Rodgers was struggling for words afterwards to describe it. He went with “exceptional”, and the touch from Sturridge was not bad either.
But everything yesterday was about Suarez and for once he did not disappoint. It was such a contrast to the day he bit Branislav Ivanovic. The love has never really stopped from those Liverpool supporters who have backed him through two huge controversies, the striker having also been found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra back in 2011, for which he was given an eight-game suspension. At some point there has to come a form of payback.
Sturridge has flourished without the South American during his absence, few would argue with Rodgers assertion afterwards that he has as good a strike pairing as any in the country. Sturridge does not need Suarez, but together they were excellent.
Sturridge had already scored, albeit with his arm, by the time Suarez finally started writing headlines his baby son might one day want to read. The goal was hugely accidental and there were no complaints from Sunderland’s defenders when Gerrard’s left-wing corner was missed by Kolo Touré and as Sturridge attempted to head the ball past Keiren Westwood, he missed and the momentum of his body meant his bicep carried the ball into the home goal.
Two-goals down, Sunderland, under the guidance of caretaker manager Kevin Ball, and still reeling from the 175 days of Paolo Di Canio’s reign of fear, could have exited the game at that point. To their credit they did not. Ball revealed he had taken the players for a walk along the seafront on the morning of the game so they could “see the people they represent”.
Something revived a group of players who were so sick of life a week beforehand that they called for the manager they resented to be sacked. At least they fought, and seven minutes into the second half fashioned a foothold into the game when Ki Sung-yueng’s shot from 30 yards was spilled by Simon Mignolet into the path of Emanuele Giaccherini. The Italian forward, who had also fallen out with Di Canio, crashed his shot into the Liverpool net. Mignolet, it is fair to say, has had better afternoons on his old ground as he parried a shot from Craig Gardner and stood up to a drive from Jozy Altidore.
Not until the 89th minute would Rodgers be able to feel comfortable that a fourth victory to carry his team into second place in the Premier League table had been secured.
Suarez this time was creator and finisher. First he picked out Sturridge to his left with a raking pass. The England forward went past Gardner and unselfishly pulled the ball back to his returning team-mate, who fired a shot into the bottom corner of Westwood’s goal. This time it was a black vest, minus the picture, that was revealed to profess more love for his son. His two-goal return was, however, a far more emphatic statement that he was back in the Premier League.
Sunderland were brave, as their stand-in manager concurred afterwards. “We gave it a real good go,” Ball said. “I asked the lads to have a go and each one of them did. We scored and created chances and took it to the death.
“If the board want me to take it forward then great. If not, then that is their prerogative.
“At half-time we were two down but we saw a good reaction. The lads had a real good go. Three-one flatters Liverpool.”
It was a day for Liverpool to stand their ground, as much as it was for Suarez to remind everyone of his talent. They did just that.
“To perform in parts like we did was very pleasing,” said Rodgers. “Kevin had a reaction from his team. You could see the intensity and focus they had.
“We had to be alert and we defended very well. Then we were very good on the counter-attack.”
Which is exactly where the returning Suarez excelled.