By George Ankers
Five goalless games was never really a reason to worry. That it was drawn attention to at all is testament to Luis Suarez's standards this season but there were no sighs of relief for Liverpool when the Uruguayan took first blood at St Mary's Stadium. One way or another, the next Suarez goal is always coming.
In this case, it came 16 minutes into his 100th Premier League appearance, the first of a fitting trifecta to celebrate the milestone. One goal, one assist, one penalty won; it summarised his talents well.
|THE KEY MAN
|SUAREZ'S STATS v SOUTHAMPTON
SHOTS (ON TARGET)
He remains the star of the unit, of course, clearly the most talented of this very talented bunch and, at Southampton, that extra quality made the difference.
As Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez went agonisingly close at the other end, the value of a world-class finisher was made plain. For all that the Saints went on to dominate most of the first half, Suarez only needed that one slightly fortuitous moment, when an awkward touch from Jose Fonte broke perfectly for him in front of Artur Boruc. He did not even need to look up.
This was textbook Suarez, from the movement and interaction with Daniel Sturridge that brought him into that position, to the indomitable confidence he displayed in his one-on-one. Most impressively, it was second-gear Suarez. Without ever needing to hit the nitro, the 27-year-old toyed with Fonte and Dejan Lovren, particularly as the game drifted away from the Saints in the second half.
His assist, spotting the run of Raheem Sterling and taking advantage of a poor interception from Lovren to tee him up, was crisp, unselfish and simple. It was his 10th in the league so far this season - more than anyone else. His clear beating of Fonte deep into stoppage time to win the final penalty was an underlining of the gap in class.
All in all, then, a fine way to celebrate his century. It is, of course, a later celebration than any other player of his calibre would expect - Suarez's high-profile suspensions mean that it has taken over three full years to rack up the 100 - but fans can look forward to a few more. At this point, it seems nonsense to suggest that Liverpool will not meet their star man's demand to play Champions League football next season, leaving the future bright and open.
Not only that, but the talismanic forward is clearly much more settled in England for the successes of those around him. As Brendan Rodgers shapes the likes of Sterling, Sturridge and Jordan Henderson into top-class players, there is considerably more freedom for Suarez when he can rely better on those around him. That he has registered more assists in 2013-14 than in any of his previous seasons in Liverpool colours speaks to the increased quality of those receiving the passes.
The difference between being the star man and a one-man team may be subtle but it clearly agrees with Suarez and, having inspired his team to rise above Arsenal and (at least temporarily) Manchester City, he could very well push them even further. If he plays this well on half-throttle, April's home clashes with City and Chelsea could see him define his legacy at the club.
Whether or not the Reds can go as far as ending their Premier League title wait - 24 years is the real drought, not five games - the Uruguayan will be able to count this as his greatest season at the club so far. The next test will be to maintain such form in 2014-15 while taking on the extra burden of Champions League football, the absence of which has been so important in allowing Rodgers's thin squad to excel as they have done.
In this kind of touch, though, it is hard to picture Suarez - or Liverpool - slowing down.
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