Defending against Luis Suárez can make for a traumatic 90 minutes.
Defending Luis Suárez, however, is a full-time occupation, as Brendan Rodgers is fast discovering. For the second successive season Liverpool's unruly Uruguayan has been criticised for his conduct when incurring a suspension. Once again, the manager argued his innocence.
Suárez will sit out Sunday's trip to West Ham after collecting a fifth domestic caution of the season for a punched attempt, that was more volleyball than football, to convert Steven Gerrard's cross. Cue comments that riled Rodgers. "I'm sure it was instinctive and not cheating as someone suggested," he said. "With instinctive stuff like that, of course it's needless, but sometimes they happen."
Sometimes they happen to Suárez, anyway. He spared Uruguay defeat in their 2010 World Cup quarter-final against Ghana with a save on his own line. The complex character who straddles the gulf between hero and villain is part goalscorer, part goalkeeper. If he has a history of "instinctive" handballs, Liverpool have a record of struggling in his absence.
Last season their league form nosedived during his eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra. Then, at least they had alternatives. Now there are none. Liverpool's striker shortage has become more acute with the last fit senior centre-forward ruled out. "I haven't got a replacement," Rodgers admitted. "It's a blow but I'm not going to lose sleep at night because he's not available."
However, Suárez's unavailability may prompt the manager to go for the unorthodox. Unless he selects one of Adam Morgan, Samed Yesil and Dani Pacheco, all youngsters and yet to appear on the bench for a league game this season, Jonjo Shelvey, who played an hour as a false No9 against Young Boys in the Europa League, may be the likeliest auxiliary attacker. A manager long influenced by Spanish football, with its emphasis on precise passing, may be forced to ape Spain's controversial 4-6-0 formation.
In the six weeks since Suárez picked up his fourth yellow card, Rodgers has compiled the contingency plan he hoped he would never need. "It is always in the back of your mind he's only one booking away from a ban, so we've had different ideas ready," he said. "I do have people capable of getting goals."
Yet Suárez is alone in managing more than one in the Premier League. Daniel Agger's header against Southampton opened his account for the season and rendered him joint-second top-scorer. While one defender struck, others surged forward time and again. "José Enrique was incredible; he was unplayable," said Rodgers. "Glen Johnson, too."
The attacking full-backs were the scourge of Southampton but the platform for dominance was provided by the returning Lucas Leiva. "I felt really sharp and I am looking forward to getting a run in the team," said the Brazilian, who made his first appearance at the base of the midfield for three months, following a thigh injury.
His influence may often be understated but Rodgers noted the balance a natural holding midfielder provided to the team. "I thought the rhythm was great," he explained. "With Lucas you can see all of a sudden with the right profile player in the right position, it frees up the offensive threats." But at Upton Park, the offence will be without the offender.
Man of the match Glen Johnson (Liverpool)
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