Uruguayan scores twice as Reds return to winning ways
So clear is the message, it need not be emblazoned on any commemorative t-shirt.
Luis Suarez is back.
There were times during the Uruguayan’s self-inflicted 10-match ban that it appeared he would never again pull on the Liverpool shirt as his flirtations with Real Madrid and Arsenal left supporters fearing the worst.
But the sight of Suarez frantically yanking the Anfield jersey over his head yesterday caused only celebration among the delighted travelling Kop as he netted twice as Brendan Rodgers’ side responded to successive defeats with deserved victory at Sunderland yesterday.
On each occasion, the striker lifted his top to reveal a different t-shirt declaring “Welcome Benja – Los Amo!!!” in loving tribute to his newly-born son Benjamin.
Quite a week, then, for Suarez, who had made his long-awaited return five days earlier in the Capital One Cup defeat at Manchester United.
Of course, it will take more than a brace against the Premier League’s bottom club to fully rehabilitate a reputation damaged by his indiscretions.
This, though, was a start, Suarez’s first goals since netting shortly after sinking his teeth into Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic back in April.
Having missed an opportunity in midweek, Liverpool were more ruthless in capitalising on a weekend in which many of their rivals dropped points to move back up to second.
Yes, there was controversy as Daniel Sturridge’s first-half opener – his seventh of the campaign – was inadvertently touched home by the striker’s arm, an effort added to shortly afterwards by Suarez.
But Liverpool will feel they were owed one after the infamous ‘beach ball’ incident of four years previous.
While far from the perfect performance, it went some distance from banishing the memory of last weekend’s dismal home reverse to Southampton that threatened to check the early-season Premier League momentum of Rodgers’s side.
Certainly, Sunderland could have few quibbles with the result, despite Emanuele Giaccherini pouncing on Liverpool’s persistent sluggishness out of the blocks after half-time.
Instead, Suarez’s second in the dying moments – Liverpool’s first goal in 404 minutes of second-half football – ensured Kevin Ball’s reign as caretaker manager following the sacking of Paolo di Canio began with defeat.
The Suarez-Sturridge partnership underlined their promise – the latter assisting the former’s double – in a 3-4-1-2 formation in which Rodgers retained faith despite the United reverse.
And there was encouragement elsewhere, new signing Mamadou Sakho further settling into defence alongside the impressive Martin Skrtel while Steven Gerrard’s influence was far more prominent than in recent outings.
Former Black Cats favourites Jordan Henderson, on his 100th Liverpool appearance, and Simon Mignolet, making his first return to the Stadium of Light since departing in the summer, were both afforded a warm reception by the home crowd before kick-off.
But the early signs suggested there would be precious little else for Sunderland supporters to cheer.
After Sturridge was fouled on the edge of area, Sunderland goalkeeper Kieren Westwood parried Gerrard’s free-kick into the path of Skrtel and was then relieved to see the referee’s assistant correctly raise his flag for offside as the Slovakian smashed the ball home.
However, it was the failure of the officials to react on 28 minutes that saw Liverpool take a controversial lead.
After Jose Enrique won a corner on the left, Gerrard’s delivery missed a leaping Kolo Toure and arrowed towards Sturridge at the far post, the striker stooping to head home only for the ball to inadvertently strike his arm and cross the line. Neither Howard Webb nor his assistant spotted the infringement.
But there was no questioning Liverpool’s second goal nine minutes before the interval.
A tremendous raking diagonal pass from Gerrard found Sturridge on the right flank, the striker controlling the ball, running at a backpedalling Carlos Cuellar and then sliding in a low cross for the incoming Suarez to prod home from a matter of yards.
With Liverpool content to play on the counter-attack, Sunderland were afforded chunks of possession and twice managed to seriously threaten Mignolet before the break.
Midway through the first half, a debatable foul on Giaccherini allowed Sebastian Larsson to curl a free-kick on to the crossbar from 25 yards.
Then, moments before half-time, a clipped pass from Lee Cattermole put Craig Gardner clear only for Mignolet to save with his outstretched leg.
The Belgium international, though, was at fault as for the umpteenth time Liverpool paid the price for starting the second half too slowly while sitting too deep.
On 52 minutes, Mignolet could only parry a shot from Sung-Yong Ki and Giaccherini reacted quickly to halve Liverpool’s lead.
The visitors wobbled momentarily, but with Sunderland’s defence underlining why the Black Cats are bottom of the league, there was never any real cause for panic.
After a fluffed free-kick from Suarez found its way to the left wing, Moses played a one-two with Enrique on the edge of the area and then smashed a deflected shot that was brilliantly turned over by Westwood.
Cuellar did enough to prevent Suarez converting Enrique’s inviting cross before the Uruguayan was off target with a fierce drive, and Westwood produced another stop to turn over Kolo Toure’s speculative effort.
The goal, though, finally arrived a minute from time. With Sunderland committing players forward in search of an equaliser, Mignolet found Suarez who in turn released Sturridge, with the England man then holding up play until his strike partner could arrive at the far post to finish with aplomb.
Welcome back, Luis.
MAN OF THE MATCH. Luis Suarez. His brace and overall performance shaded strike partner Daniel Sturridge to the award
SUNDERLAND (4-2-3-1): Westwood; Gardner, O’Shea, Cuellar, Colback; Ki, Cattermole (Celustka 74); Giaccherini, Larsson (Mavrias 85), Johnson; Altidore. Subs: Mannone, Wickham, Ba, Ji, Roberge. BOOKINGS: Giaccherini and Colback (both fouls).
LIVERPOOL (3-4-1-2): Mignolet; Toure, Skrtel, Sakho; Henderson, Lucas, Gerrard, Enrique; Moses (Sterling 75); Sturridge, Suarez. Subs: Jones, Agger, Aspas, Ilori, Ibe, Wisdom. BOOKING: Lucas (foul).
REFEREE: Howard Webb.