Is Luis Suarez Learning From His Mistakes?

Luis Suarez's hat-trick strike at Norwich has been the main talking point of the forward's performance, but Alex Hess argues that the other aspects of his game are more encouraging...

Last Updated: 01/05/12 at 11:27 Post Comment

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Much has been made of Luis Suarez's hat-trick strike at Carrow Road on Saturday - and deservedly so - but while the Uruguayan's aptitude for such moments of visionary brilliance is nothing entirely new, his preceding two goals offer more insight into his footballing progression.

Both displayed something of the familiar in the buzzing movement and incessant harrying that Suarez generally imposes on defences, but both were also rather unusual in terms of the clinical, no-nonsense manner of their dispatching. Each time, when haring towards goal on the diagonal, the strikes were simple, unhesitant and brutally effective. Each time, too, there was a covering defender who Suarez opted against taking on.

As anyone who has watched Liverpool much this term will tell you, such ruthlessness represents a marked departure from the (non-)finishing that has come to characterise the Reds' season. Liverpool's wastefulness has been hitting levels of self-parody for months now, with last weekend's failure to convert any of their 28 attempts against Roy Hodgson's West Brom just one of many cases in point.

Suarez himself has best personified this failing, contriving all season to overcomplicate and squander the simplest of chances, often following far more demanding build-up play - his signature annoyance being the urge to beat every present defender before even considering a shot. The much-quoted statistic that he possesses the division's worst chance conversion rate is a frankly shameful one for a player of his class, but it is entirely reflective of his wildness in front of goal - statistics can deceive, but that one does not.

Saturday's first-half finishes were therefore noticeably un-Suarez-like. Indeed, their straightforwardness recalled his prod past Tim Howard at Wembley two weeks earlier. Perhaps, after months of finishing that's made Shola Ameobi seem like Gerd Müller, Liverpool's shortcomings are finally being addressed with tangible results.

Suarez's response to the home fans on Saturday was also a welcome one. Being the Canaries' foremost tormenter that afternoon, and given the pantomime villain role which he now fills - wilfully or not - in the collective psyche of opposition fans, he was subjected to the full catalogue of abuse from a surprisingly hostile East Anglian crowd. This time though, the customary back-arching tumbles and imaginary card-waving were largely declined in favour of persistent, intelligent off-the-ball running - a far more constructive response to the now-predictable goading he faces away from Anfield.

Not that he was a model of maturity - his fruitless complaining to officialdom sparked into life in patches, and he left Carrow Road with his arse not entirely unacquainted with its turf - but, by his own standards, a notable difference was nonetheless visible in demeanour as well as technique.

Of course, it's a lot easier to behave yourself when you've just scored two goals, and his unnecessarily attempted chip in the second half (not that one) was proof that his profligacy hasn't deserted him overnight. Ultimately, only time will tell if this recent trend is part of a long-term improvement or simply an anomaly, and it will need to be replicated on more significant, higher-pressure occasions than Saturday's to show genuine worth. The FA Cup final against Chelsea being the perfect place to start.

Caveats aside though, improvement is improvement, and the signs remain encouraging. Certainly, Cristiano Ronaldo has shown that complying with a steep learning curve upon embarking in England does little harm in the long run, and in terms of raw ability at this stage of their careers, the two are comparable. Sacrificing indulgence and petulance in favour of hard graft and unrelenting end product, however, is the point at which one became truly phenomenal. Perhaps, at last, Suarez will heed a similar lesson.

Alex Hess - follow him on Twitter.

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