Suarez in thick of it as Liverpool draw blank against Spurs
Liverpool 0 Tottenham Hotspur 0: Por fin llego el dia (Finally the day has come), Luis Suarez declared yesterday and when his much heralded return had almost taken the roof off Anfield, he needed only three minutes to reveal why he is a player who will always invite extreme opinions.
The day might have started with mild expressions of warmth for the club whose defence of him to the hilt, in the four months since he was accused of the racial abuse of Patrice Evra on this turf, has created an important bond. But within three minutes he had been booked for a challenge which, within another two, had moved Manchester United's Wayne Rooney to throw in a comment and by the end of the night he was screaming to the Liverpool night in fury at a penalty denied him. Throw in another four shots on goal in the space of around 25 minutes of play and you realise why supporting him was considered worth staking a club's reputation on.
Since Kenny Dalglish felt he could wait, Suarez was reduced to knocking balls around with Fabio Aurelio before kick-off. "In some ways he'll be like a new signing. So that'll be two Januarys running we've signed Luis," Dalglish said of the player in question, in his programme notes. You just sensed that neither of them could hardly wait to put his absence to an end. Initially, the only catcalls came from the Kop end when a feline tortoiseshell presence on the pitch temporarily suspended proceedings. The ensuing chorus of "we're not racists, we only hate cats..." was sublime.
The trials and tribulations of another prospective member of the night's cast prevented him making it at all. Harry Redknapp's travel prospects had brightened when his court case was adjourned early, because Southwark Crown Court was deemed too cold, but a technical problem with his plane prevented the 64-year-old leaving the runway at London City Airport.
But there was also the not insignificant issue of two sides with major ambitions to fulfill – third-placed Tottenham wanting Manchester United to feel north London breath on their collar and Liverpool, who had maintained the sixth spot they held when Suarez last played on Boxing Day, seeking the same discomfort for fourth-placed Chelsea.
Dalglish's decision to reward Andy Carroll for some promising recent signs were not immediately repaid. He sent a wild 30-yard back-pass out of play inside the first three minutes. But there then ensued something that the watching Fabio Capello must have enjoyed, if only for novelty value: good news on the England defensive front.
Michael Dawson started it in the fifth minute, with an impeccably timed tackle on Carroll after Steven Gerrard had began a night of immaculate distribution by playing him through into the penalty area. Carroll briefly joined in Anfield's "penalty" calls but withdrew his raised arm. He recognised superb defending. Kyle Walker and Glen Johnson – competitors for Capello's right-back jersey this summer but with Johnson forced to left-back by Jose Enrique's injury – then offered the command performances of the first half as they went up against each other. Walker stunted Dirk Kuyt's progress immediately when Gerrard picked him out and he then opened up a dangerous flank for Tottenham, advancing twice into attacking areas. Gareth Bale's flick bounced up tamely for Pepe Reina on the first occasion and Johnson slid in to deny him on the second.
But it was Liverpool, galvanised by Gerrard, who showed the greater first-half threat. The closest they came to opening the scoring was the 25-yard shot that Jay Spearing sent swerving a foot wide of Brad Friedel's left-hand post after Gerrard had teed him up just after the half-hour, though it was Johnson who ended the first half with a dangerous, skidding effort that Friedel did well to stop with his legs.
It was the spark of the unexpected that Liverpool needed to convert their considerable possession into a lead. Something, perhaps, of the measure that Wolves manager Mick McCarthy described when Liverpool beat his own team in September. "He never does what you expect him to. He is something else," he said of Suarez.
He appeared just after the interval to warm up for the first time and though the Depeche Mode anthem in his name rang out – instantaneous and cacophonous when he arrived on the pitch after 66 minutes – there were casual reminders from the Tottenham end of the kind of reception which may be to come. "You know what you are" and "Are you Terry in disguise?" Finally, Dalglish had Suarez, Gerrard and Carroll on the same field of play together. The three had combined for only 69 minutes in total before last night.
The impact was extraordinary as Suarez demonstrated qualities which will make him divine or a devil, according to your particular persuasion. A full minute had not ticked down before he had dispossessed Benoît Assou-Ekotto down the Liverpool right and gone racing dangerously into the area, where another excellent intervention from Dawson saw off the danger.
Then came the other Suarez. A dangerous swing at a bouncing ball in the Tottenham area which found no connection with the ball and a substantial connection with Parker – who took the full force of Suarez's boot in his abdomen and fell in agony to the floor.
It looked like an accidental challenge and one befitting the yellow card Suarez received, though Rooney felt differently. "If ref sees that challenge from suarez and books him for it it should be red," he tweeted.
The most dramatic events were yet to come. Bale was presented with the best chance of the night when released on a counter-attack, only for Pepe Reina to smother the threat. Carroll then conspired to spurn an even better chance. Martin Kelly's cross was headed down invitingly but having controlling it, he crashed it over the bar. Suarez will have longer to break the deadlock at Old Trafford on Saturday. There will be fireworks.
Liverpool: REINA; KELLY; SKRTEL; AGGER; JOHNSON; ADAM; SPEARING; KUYT; GERRARD; BELLAMY; CARROLL
Spurs: FRIEDEL; ASSOU-EKOTTO; KING; DAWSON; WALKER; LIVERMORE; PARKER; KRANJCAR; MODRIC; BALE; ADEBAYOR
Substitutes: Liverpool Suarez (Kuyt, 66), Downing (Bellamy, 73) Tottenham Saha (Adebayor, 71), Rose (Krancjar, 87)
Booked: Liverpool Suarez, Skrtel Tottenham Parker, Bale.
Man of the match Gerrard.
Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Liverpool 52% Tottenham 48%.
Attempts on target: Liverpool 15 Tottenham 9.
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland)