What is the best ever individual performance in a Premier League season? It is a question often asked. Whether on a twitter poll, Instagram post, or in a debate with a group of friends, everyone has their opinion.
There are a few seasons always mentioned; Mohammed Salah’s record-breaking 32-goal season in 2017/18, where he set England alight, Thierry Henry’s 20-goal and 20-assist season (matched by nobody before or after) in 2002/03, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s 31-goal Balon D’or winning season in 2007/08. Unfortunately, one seemingly does not get the respect it deserves.
That one season belongs to none other than Luís Suarez. The accused racist who is no stranger to biting chunks out of opposing players. Whatever you may think of Suarez and his antics, it is undeniable just how great he was throughout his career, and especially in his last two years in England.
2012/13 was a great year for Suarez, as he scored 30 goals in England. The Uruguayan averaged 0.68 goals a game, along with supplying 13 assists. He was converting his ultra-threatening dribbling, incisive passing, and all-round gameplay into superior execution in the final third. It was a scary time to be a Premier League defender.
Of course, Suarez’s season ended with him attempting to bite a chunk out of Branislav Ivanovic’s shoulder, leading to a ten-match ban. This act of cannibalism would have a big impact on Liverpool next season.
What followed in the campaign after the completion of the ban? After requesting a transfer, Suarez performed a u-turn. He was happy to stay at Anfield after a conversation with Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard. Suarez went on to run rampant across England. His time watching from the sidelines had him foaming at the mouth.
After missing five games due to his ban, Suarez returned in the League Cup against Manchester United. Liverpool endured a 1-0 loss, thanks to a Javier Hernandez strike. But this would not be the story of Liverpool’s season; the story of the season would be something far more significant than anyone could have imagined.
In 37 games across all competitions, Luis Suarez scored 31 goals, all of which were registered in the Premier League. He amassed 19 assists, totalling 50 goal contributions in 37 games. That level of production in said amount of games is almost unheard. It was a joy to watch.
His trademark of relentlessly nutmegging opposition players, coupled with long-range stunners and brilliant set-pieces, was apparent each fixture. Suarez was making a serious case of being in the top two or three best players on the planet.
It wasn’t just the raw numbers that were impressive. It wasn’t just the regular Luís Suarez activity of making defenders look silly on a weekly basis. It wasn’t just the excellent partnership he struck up with Daniel Sturridge, as they drove defenders insane every week; it was the sheer relentless rampages he went on, week in, week out. What he was doing was awe-inspiring.
The way he put this Liverpool team on his back was unfathomable. His team was, let’s be honest, devoid of much quality outside of Suárez, Daniel Sturridge, Phillipe Coutinho, and Steven Gerrard. The depth in the squad wasn’t there like it is for Liverpool today. Raheem Sterling was present within the ranks, but he was wasteful, as was Jordan Henderson.
For me, to be honest, this Liverpool side was Suarez and Suarez alone. If anyone wants to disagree, let’s look at the season after. The 2013/14 term, with Luís Suarez, Liverpool gathered 84 points. In this season they finished two points away from Manchester City in top spot.
The following season, with basically the same team minus the Uruguayan, and with the addition of a few new faces, Liverpool finished with 62 points and 25 points away from triumphant Chelsea. Regressing from 84 points to 62 points showcased that Luís Suarez was essentially worth 22 points to that Liverpool team. That is seven wins and one draw.
This Liverpool squad went from the brink of a title, to barely making European competition. That is the value Suarez brought through his performances.
With that said, I think it would be appropriate to cast an eye over a few of his most dominant performances through the season.
The first game to touch on is the game against Manchester City, on Boxing Day. It was a trip to the Etihad Stadium in a title tilt between second and first place. Liverpool would take a 7 point lead over City with a win, and win they should have.
Suarez, captain for the day in the absence of Steven Gerrard, was marvellous. Whether it was linking up play in the second phase to players beyond him, or showing devastating wing-play to terrorise the Manchester City defenders, Suarez did it all. There were moments in Manchester which displayed his genius.
This specific moment was quite early on in the fixture. It was Suarez and Raheem Sterling spearheading the charge. Suarez was rioting through the lines of City, rendering defenders obsolete as Sterling timed a run perfectly. Suarez slid him through, but Sterling messed it up. He didn’t control the ball adequately, and the chance was wasted.
Next up, it was another transition opportunity for Liverpool. Suarez was marauding; Sterling was running, and like before, the striker slipped a wonderful slide-rule pass through to the Englishman who was surely onside as he played the ball into Joe Hart’s empty net. Liverpool led; except they didn’t. Sterling was ruled offside, but replays showed that he was so clearly onside. The decision was a major disappointment for onlooking Liverpool fans.
The third occasion where Suarez shone should have resulted in a goal in the second half. The ball was clipped over the defender and Suarez, using his impressive upper body strength, rolled the defender, and away he went. He had a few options; cut inside and wrap a shot towards the corner, go to the byline and cut the ball back, or slide the ball across to Sterling for an open goal. He took the final option.
The ball was perfect. Sterling, with the goal at his mercy and only a single yard out, ballooned it over instead of making it 2-2. I’m certain at that moment, Suarez decided to leave Liverpool. Raheem Sterling, when it seemed harder to miss, sent a tap in over the bar. It was a horrible miss.
Let’s get back to the first half. It was 0-0 when Jordan Henderson conjured up a ball through the lines into Suarez, who, using his ingenious playmaking ability, saw the play develop before it had happened. Suarez, with his back to goal, played a ball on the turn even the finest of number 10’s would be proud of. He played the ball into space where no-one was moving, and it caught the City defence out.
Sterling latched onto it, rounded the keeper, and Coutinho came and finished the move. But make no mistake, this was all a result of the brilliant pass by Suarez in behind the defence. Ingenious play by the Uruguayan. It was a marvellous display all round. One that could have ended with four assists, and a major part to play in another goal; it was masterful. Yet, he left with nothing due to inferior teammates. 2-1 City.
Destruction. Demolition. Annihilation; three words that apply to Liverpool’s 5-1 dismantling of Arsenal in February 2014.
Arsene Wenger’s table-toppers had beaten Liverpool in a comfortable 2-0 win back in November. Liverpool hadn’t forgotten. In the first 20 minutes, Liverpool delivered a delicious four-goal haul to firmly undermine the league leaders. But as usual, one performance stood tall above the rest. Again, it lacked a goal from the Uruguayan, but it was truly magnificent from Luís Suarez.
It was different to the role he took on against Manchester City where he was a facilitator for attacks in both transitions and when the game had slowed down. He fulfilled that role beautifully, as mentioned earlier.
The role in the game against The Gunners was both to create, and more as an outlet in transition. His task was to hold up the ball and bring others into play, to run the channels, win free kicks, and to act as a pressure release valve for the defence. This was a more traditional centre-forward display. It helped that he had his world-class striking partner back in Sturridge following injury.
The show undoubtedly belonged to the South American. Suarez’s brutal, rough and tough side was on display. The finest centre-forward on the planet was playing in the profile of one ‘yer da’ would gush over, back in the day.
When the opportunity arose, the quality only Suarez could offer was on show. We saw it when he ran down the right channel to slip in Sterling for a tap in (he scored this time), to slide in Sturridge for a 1v1 against the goalkeeper (he missed), or his check inside onto his left foot to play a teasing ball into an area where all it needed was a touch.
Suarez was everywhere. His imprint was all over the game with such dominance. But there are two flash-points which stick out more than others.
The second (yes, I know I’ve not mentioned the first) was genius. It was a free-kick from around 45-yards out. Was he going to stick in a beautiful tempting ball into the penalty area as he’d done not so long ago? After all, his set-piece delivery was marvellous.
Absolutely not. Suarez wrapped his foot around the ball, and arrowed it straight into the top right-hand corner. The goalkeeper parried it over the crossbar for a corner. It wasn’t a goal, but it forced a great save from Wojciech Szczęsny.
The childlike genius from the Uruguayan centre-forward had spotted something no one else did. He whipped the ball towards the top corner, and if it weren’t for a last-second scramble from the goalkeeper, it would have been one of the most memorable goals of the season.
The first was a moment which sums Suarez up beautifully. Instinctual, that’s what this was. The ball came out from a set-play into Suarez’s possession. Most people would simply take the ball down and get the play moving. Some would chest the ball down and hit it on the volley.
Suarez? No chance. He doesn’t do things like me or you would. He let the ball come to him, set himself, and absolutely leathered the ball. It was such a clean, crisp connection from the Number 7, maybe even too clean. The ball was fizzing, and it looked like it was heading straight to the top corner.
Unfortunately, he was denied by a lick of paint. The ball smashed against the post and cannoned back off it. I’m convinced if he had sliced the ball the slightest bit, it would have gone in. The crispness and cleanness of that strike denied what would have been a contender for goal of the season. Two in the same game, by the same guy; Luís Suarez.
The Magnum Opus
What more can I say about Luís Suarez? December 2013; Liverpool vs Norwich City. It was sensational.
This was his Masterpiece. This was his Chef-D’œuvre, his Obra Maestra, the Magnum Opus.
There were a few moments in the 2013/14 season I could have chosen, and that says it all. The West Brom demolition where he registered a hat-trick and scored a header from near enough outside the box. The return against Sunderland. The ‘Super Super Suarez’ fixture, as narrated by Martin Tyler on one very super Sunday for Liverpool, as they devoured the Lily-Whites 5-0.
But this game towers above the rest. Suarez and Norwich had a rich history, well, from Suarez’s point of view anyway. He had constantly ripped them to pieces. But on this one cold December day, Suarez embarrassed the Canaries in a manner we had not seen in the Premier League for a long time. It was borderline disrespectful.
It was the overall game he presented, his general play that was so impressive. The mass excellence which Suarez brought was channelled into his positioning to pick up the ball in dangerous spots between the lines, and how he proceeded to drive forward and link the midfield and attack.
Suarez broke the lines with his mesmeric dribbling and ball-control before teeing up a teammate, ala Jordan Henderson, whose indecision ruined the chance. Suarez made incisive runs in behind the defence, causing chaos, and creating opportunities for Steven Gerrard and company.
Liverpool’s talisman played wonderfully weighted defence-splitting passes throughout, including having the patience to create the separation to set up Daniel Sturridge with a perfect cross to rattle home. Everything he did came off. Let’s get onto the goals, shall we?
Starting with the simplest goal and Suarez’s second of the game; Coutinho whipped in a below-average corner, which required Gerrard to get down low and touch the ball through to Suarez. The ball was on the rise, so despite it being four yards from goal, it was more than possible to miss the chance. Add to the fact he was off-balance, falling away, and was forced to hit it with his left. It proved to be a difficult chance. Falling away, Suarez lifted the ball into the roof of the net. A simple, yet tricky finish, was the second goal of the game.
Now, the first goal, and some people’s favourite. Not for me, but it was terrific. This from Suarez was beautifully instinctive. The ball was coming down over his head after a clearance from the back. A botched attempt to control the ball meant that Suarez had a chance at it. He was fairly isolated, and defenders were back in position. Us mere mortals would take the ball, have patience and look to bring others into play.
What did Suarez do? He waited for the ball to drop and cut upwards and across the ball. He sent the ball right to the corner of the Norwich net. The rate at which it rose and fell down was remarkable. The technique on show from the hitman was sublime—what a goal.
The fourth finish of a marvellous collection for El Pistolero was a free-kick. It was around 30-yards-out, with him and Steven Gerrard standing over it.
Not a bad pairing to have over your free-kick. Gerrard, considering the night the striker was having, left it to Suarez. The Uruguayan wrapped his foot around the ball in such a manner that it went around the wall and bent back around. It flew into the corner of the net.
The technique required to wrap one’s foot around the ball to get that much curl on the ball, and for it to fly into the top corner, is sublime. The goal was superb. This type of performance was not overly surprising by now. England had seen Luís Suarez at his best.
The hat-trick goal left you in a state of shock upon viewing. It was somewhat unreal to watch. It was a line-breaking pass from the back to Sturridge who subsequently left it to Suarez. The ball bounced onto his chest before taking it down. He took a couple of touches to get the ball under his spell while progressing forward.
He kept going, and a Norwich defender sensing the danger, came to try and stop him. Even Suarez couldn’t have imagined what came next. He flicked the ball over the defender and feinted a volley. Had he shot and scored on the full volley, it would have been amazing enough, but the feint gave him the little piece of separation from the defender. From there, the ball bounced, and on the way up, Suarez struck.
95% of the time, a ball struck on the half volley on the way up will fly over the bar. However, Suarez isn’t everyone else. The Gunman (now you know why your favourite striker is called Gunman, it’s due to Suarez) slapped the ball and sent it hurtling towards goal. Anfield erupted at his genius, and away Suarez wheeled in celebration. The masterpiece was now complete.
Another hat-trick against Norwich. Another amazing goal for Luís Suarez. Another impressive display of footballing know-how. A devastating season from Luis Suarez.
It was a season to rival any all-time great season, in any division, in any league. What Suarez did was transcendentally excellent.
Luís Suarez, El Pistolero, blessed the English game with his otherworldly talent.
Whenever someone brings up a debate about the greatest individual Premier League season ever, don’t forget him. Whether you think it was Thierry Henry in 2002/03, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007/08, or Mohamed Salah in 2017/18. Whatever you believe, whoever you think it is; do not, I repeat, DO NOT, forget about Luís Suarez in 2013/14.
For Suarez, 2013/14 was an unstoppable relentless monster, feasting and devouring on helpless defences. It was a true masterpiece by one of the Premier Leagues best-ever.
Written by Mustafa Jawad – @Mussy__J10
Graphics: Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_