The former Anfield striker could not stop Real Madrid running out 3-1 victors in El Clasico, while the Merseyside club laboured to a goalless draw against Hull City
By Tom Maston at Anfield
All eyes were on the Bernabeu on Saturday as Luis Suarez made his long-awaited competitive debut for Barcelona in El Clasico against Real Madrid.
Suarez could not stop Madrid running out 3-1 winners over Barca, but there was a cruel irony in the air as his former club Liverpool were held by Hull City at Anfield in one of their least inspiring performances in recent memory. The man who may well have unlocked the Tigers defence in years gone by was elsewhere making headlines.
Goalless draws and Liverpool are two things that do not go together. It is 57 matches in all competitions since the Reds last played out a stalemate, and though their recent defensive record has plenty to do with that, it is the attacking flair that Brendan Rodgers prides himself on that has predominantly led to Anfield becoming the place to be to see goals go in.
On so many occasions last season Suarez inspired Liverpool to results that they otherwise would never have achieved. The Uruguayan scored four and created a fifth against Norwich City on an evening when no other player in red put in a performance deserving of anything more than a six out of 10.
Life without Suarez has been understandably tough. Against Hull, Liverpool misplaced passes and were unable to dictate the tempo on a forgettable afternoon for the home supporters. They lacked any impetus until Philippe Coutinho – a player not on the same level as Suarez but with a knack for providing match-winning moments – was introduced from the bench on the hour mark. For all their energy and hard work the cutting edge has gone from their play.
There are some mitigating factors for Rodgers; the loss of Daniel Sturridge to two injuries since August has played its part. In his and Suarez’s place, Mario Balotelli has been entrusted with leading the line in a lone striker’s role that is not entirely familiar to him.
The Italy forward has taken some flak for a slow start to life at Anfield, though there were plenty of encouraging signs on Saturday. He worked tirelessly to win the ball back in the opposition’s half while his ability to get into the box and find pockets of space has never been in doubt.
What Balotelli lacks at present is confidence – something Suarez can never be criticised of. There were boos when the former Manchester City man’s name was read out over the tannoy ahead of kick-off, and the pressure on him to find the net is only intensifying. Few could help think back to what Suarez would have provided when the 24-year-old shot straight at Eldin Jakupovic from close range in the final minute of stoppage time.
Just eight minutes later, Suarez himself was running out at the Bernabeu for his bow as a Barcelona player.
The former Ajax striker’s ability to provide as well as score goals is what sets him apart from many in world football, and that was in evidence again when he laid on the ball for Neymar to open the scoring after just four minutes on Saturday. He created a further three chances in the game before being replaced in the second half, and the signs are there that he will fit right in under Luis Enrique.
For Liverpool and Rodgers, the club must find a solution to adapt to life without Suarez as they bid to last season’s title bid was more than just a one-off. But that is easier said than done.