Rodgers: 'Suarez is player of the year'
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes he has the player of the year in Luis Suarez and hopes the striker can lead the Reds on a late-season charge.
The Uruguay international has scored 25 goals this season, 18 of which have come in the league, to put him one behind of Manchester United’s Robin van Persie and three ahead of Tottenham’s Gareth Bale – both fellow contenders for this season’s star man 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 on Saturday and Rodgers believes the player’s recent record compares to the best.
In his first 45 games Suarez managed just 16 goals, but has scored 30 in his last 44 appearances, which debunks the claim the striker is not prolific enough.
Asked who he would pick as player of the year, Rodgers’ choice was obvious.
“I couldn’t look much further than Luis Suarez,” he said.
“He has been phenomenal – that is not just an opinion as his manager.
“If I look across the board 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.
“His performances have spoken for themselves. There’s many great players in this league but for me he has been absolutely outstanding.”
The goalscoring burden on Suarez has been eased by last month’s £12million signing of Daniel Sturridge, who should he score at the weekend will reach five Premier League goals in six matches.
Rodgers thinks the strike duo’s partnership, which has blossomed incredibly quickly, will make a difference to Liverpool in the final three months of the campaign.
“They are two top players but they have got different qualities and different strengths,” he added.
“You have seen Luis’ all season – his cleverness and his movement and his intensity in his game.
“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, his chances and the goals he has put away, 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.
“They are a real potent threat so that partnership and that cohesion is growing all the time and it is pleasing to see.”
With the likes of Chelsea faltering and Arsenal and Everton failing to put down a definitive marker for the final Champions League qualification place, there is still an outside possibility a late run could lift the Reds into contention.
Rodgers, however, 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.
“Especially how the season has gone for us: we have been brilliant at times and inconsistent at others.
“If we can come up with that consistency over these closing months it will provide a springboard for next season.
“Finish this season as strong as we possibly can, as high as we can, and then we’ll be in a much better place come the summer to really push on.”