Suarez Liverpool's perfect leader after another Anfield masterclass

Fresh from penning a new long-term deal with the Reds, the Premier League's top scorer demonstrated the growing maturity in his game by leading the first-half demolition of Cardiff
By Jonathan Birchall at Anfield

We all knew inside Anfield that Luis Suarez would score today as he warmed up, laughing, ahead of Liverpool's 3-1 defeat of Cardiff City. That much was inevitable.

But this - a goal, assist, another goal - 19 in 12 games now, has long crossed the line of ridiculous.

The rest of the Premier League are going to have to knock their heads together and come up with something to stop him, though without some fundamental changes as to what constitutes fair play, you struggle to see what can be done. This, whisper it, got close to Ronaldo and Messi territory from the Uruguayan.

And he is sticking around for a good while yet. A long-term deal on Friday has made sure of that. Liverpool have their best player since Steven Gerrard at his very peak tied down for the foreseeable future and the top four is becoming less a dream than it is an expectation on the red half of Merseyside. You can hardly blame them, when the going is this good.

For Liverpool, though, beyond the goals, skill and that inevitable sense that they have a man who can dig them out of any hole, this goes much further than having a magician in their midst. Typically in the Christmas spirit, Suarez is spreading the joy.

Those around him have been touched, if only a little, by exactly what he is bringing to their football club. As he flung the armband to Daniel Agger after the club's vice-captain came off the bench, you saw a man quite clearly content with life at Anfield.

You would never have imagined it as he sunk his teeth into the arm of Branislav Ivanovic in April last year - but Suarez is becoming the perfect captain for Liverpool. Regardless of the scoreline, he wants his team-mates to keep on getting better. They are.

Jordan Henderson's backheel for Suarez's second summed it up. The former Sunderland man, adjudged a gross overspend by many on the Kop after Kenny Dalglish brought him to the club for £18 million in the summer of 2011, is playing with a freedom and confidence that had for too long been missing from his game. He is the in-form English midfielder as it stands - and that includes his currently injured club captain.

Alongside the 23-year-old, Phillipe Coutinho has returned from a six-week absence earlier this season and slotted seamlessly into a side whose attacking prowess is, at times, immensely exciting.

Raheem Sterling, who kept up with Suarez to be gifted a goal by his captain in a moment of impressive selflessness to double the hosts' lead, is returning to the type of exhilarating form that saw him called-up, perhaps prematurely, to Roy Hodgson's England setup last term.

After crushing Tottenham 5-0 last week and a first-half performance of such dominance, it can be argued that Brendan Rodgers is showing Anfield its best football since Rafael Benitez left the club over three years ago. Suarez, as the number of '7' flags quilting the Kop showed, is the figurehead. As he has so often looked to them after his many - some thought too many - indiscretions, they look to him. His team-mates do as well.

Cardiff, however, represent a stark contrast to FSG's ingenious move to tie Suarez down ahead of the January window and are showing the world how not to run a football club. They battled superbly in the second half and showed their owner that however hard he tried to grind Malky Mackay down, the Scot has the backing of his players until the very, seemingly inevitable end.

But today belonged to Luis Suarez.

Rodgers called it an "exceptional team performance" but that is increasingly the point. This is Suarez's team, for now and for the future.