LONDON: Something mystical has happened to Luis Alberto Suarez Diaz. Suddenly the sharp-fanged Uruguayan has turned himself around.
Perhaps it is all down to the help from sports psychologist Steve Peters; perhaps it is being handed the Liverpool captaincy in the absence of injured Steven Gerrard; perhaps it is finding that the will of owner John W Henry to keep him at the club was stronger than his power to walk out; perhaps it is the team support-building expertise of manager Brendan Rodgers.
Perhaps the answer lies in a mixture of all four or even just the spirit of Christmas.
Whatever the truth, the sum total has added up to a striker playing as well as anyone in the elite European game and gaining added encouragement and impetus from seeing his club at the top of the Premier League.
Suarez scored two more fine goals on Saturday as Liverpool dismissed crisis-hit Cardiff City 3-1 at Anfield to take over, temporarily at least, at the top of the table.
A day after signing a contract extension, reportedly worth £200,000 a week, he struck Liverpool’s first and third goals in the 25th and 44th minutes and created the second for Raheem Sterling inbetween.
Staying anywhere in the top four all the way through to next May and Suarez can head off to the World Cup with his ambition of a return to the Champions League fulfilled.
Back in August the scenario could not have been more different. Suarez was angling to force a move to Arsenal and he was in the middle of a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea’s Brane Ivanovic – and all after a season which had seen Liverpool fail to qualify even for the Europa League.
His comeback, in a 1-0 League Cup defeat at Manchester United on September 25, was hardly auspicious. But then Suarez scored twice in a 3-1 win at Sunderland the following weekend and he has not stopped scoring goals ever since.
In 12 league games Suarez has scored 19 goals which establishes him as the competition’s top scorer and up among contenders for the ESM Golden Shoe for the leading marksman across all of Europe. Liverpool have won 11 of those 12 games, the exception being a 3:3 derby draw with Everton.
Indeed, the only three games in which Suarez has not scored have seen Liverpool draw with Newcastle and lose at Arsenal and Hull. He scored no fewer than 14 of his goals in just six home matches – including Saturday’s win over Cardiff.
Equally notable, though unnoticed among the flurry of goals, Suarez has been the shown the yellow card only once, in the derby tension against Everton. By this time last season he has collected six yellow cards out of a seasonal total of 10.
When Liverpool refused to consider selling Suarez he refused to sulk. Instead he has concentrated on his football with a focus which has raised the standard of even his game to a new level altogether. Not only should English clubs be worried about facing him in the second half of the season; England should worry about facing him in the World Cup.