Battle for PFA Player of the Year: Suarez vs Gerrard

With the nominations out yesterday, there appears to be only one winner.

Luis Suarez is the obvious choice to be crowned PFA Player of the Year next Sunday.

But he has a rival, one who sits across from him in the Anfield dressing room; a man whose role within the Liverpool set-up is no less pivotal than the irrepressible Uruguayan's.

Steven Gerrard stands on the brink of being anointed the patron saint of the Scousers if he guides them to the Premier League Promised Land.

He also stands between Suarez and a clean sweep of the major personal awards to be handed out in the coming weeks.

There is a case for both Reds to be crowned...

LUIS SUAREZ

There hasn't been a case this clear-cut since Alan Pardew was caught on camera nuzzling David Meyler's chest.

The statistics are in the Liverpool striker's corner.

He is one away from being the first Red to run past 30 goals in a Premier League season.

If he finds another three, he romps clear of Cristiano Ronaldo and Alan Shearer and heads off to the Brazilian sunshine with the record haul for a season.

Both records could go at Norwich.

Suarez and the Canaries are rivalled only by Charlie Sheen and the Playboy bunnies.

It's a scoring frenzy.

He's aiming for a hat-trick of hat-tricks at Carrow Road tomorrow, after netting 11 times in four games.

Norwich want to see Suarez prancing around their pitch like a canary wants to see Sylvester the Cat in his cage.

But Suarez has proven so much more than a goal machine this season.

He's a brilliant, buck-toothed hyena.

He chases down the vulnerable and revels in their suffering.

He targets the troubled and the endangered.

Hunting in packs with Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, Suarez switched flanks continuously as he sniffed out the weak.

Against Tottenham, they pounced on Michael Dawson and Kyle Naughton like the dithering duo were wounded buffalos.

At Manchester United, he went after Phil Jones.

Suarez terrorised both Jose Fonte and Dejan Lovren at Southampton and, last Sunday, he harassed Manchester City's Martin Demichelis.

Most strikers thrive in the shadows, scurrying around in their opponents' blind spots.

Suarez hides out in the open. He's Han Solo in the original Star Wars.

He chases confused stormtroopers and forces them to retreat.

He scores like a striker, but thinks like a winger.

He doesn't run away from fullbacks. He goes after them, causing panic in the penalty box, gleefully creating goals for grateful teammates.

Brendan Rodgers might have made men of Sterling and Sturridge, but Suarez made many of their goals.

The road to redemption is an obvious path to take, but the Uruguayan's metamorphosis is no less extraordinary despite its simple narrative.

Suarez was washed up in pre-season. He wanted to leave.

Many among the Liverpool faithful had already bid him good riddance - though they will all vehemently deny this now of course.

And Rodgers was criticised in some quarters for not cashing in on a volatile asset likely to spend chunks of the season suspended.

Only Suarez and Rodgers knew better. The goals vindicated Rodgers. The PFA Player of the Year prize will validate Suarez.

Such awards - along with a title winners' medal - would rubber stamp the Uruguayan's remarkable rehabilitation.

And if Suarez feels his personal journey at Liverpool has been completed earlier than expected, the gleaming trinkets and trophies may buy him an exit visa to Madrid.

STEVEN GERRARD

Take away Uruguayans and West Ham, Olympiakos and AC Milan supporters with long memories and there cannot be a man, woman on child left on this planet who isn't campaigning for the Liverpool skipper.

There must be Inuit families in northern Greenland spray-painting their kayaks with the words: "Do it for Stevie G".

He had the Anfield faithful at "hello" back in 1998. He had the romantics at the final whistle after Manchester City. And he had the most hardened sceptics at the Hillsborough memorial in midweek.

He has everyone on side - except his own striker.

Gerrard is considered little more than a running mate behind primary contender Suarez.

He's making up the numbers, because Suarez's numbers are unassailable.

But their fellow professionals have good reason to feel differently.

Ironically, Gerrard's chances increase if raw emotion and romanticism are put to one side and the voters take a more detached view. Rodgers' master plan malfunctions without his skipper. Suarez might provide the goals, but Gerrard brings the glue.

His characteristic gut-busting runs now feature more on old YouTube clips than match-days, but the midfielder's trademark energy is less important than his role as an emollient.

He covers cracks, releases stress at the back and makes the Reds pliable, less rigid.

Rodgers' attacking system - whether it's his preferred 4-3-3 or the more cautious diamond - collapses without Gerrard.

There is a reason Liverpool have conceded a goal more than Crystal Palace.

The Reds lack a natural defensive midfielder in the fashion of Gareth Barry, Nemanja Matic or Mathieu Flamini.

Check Everton's progress with Barry, Chelsea's radical improvement after Matic was acquired and Arsenal's trouble and strife when a fully-fit Flamini wasn't around, mop in hand, to clean up the mess.

Gerrard has assumed that pivotal role. He has suppressed natural attacking instincts honed over 20 years to offer Liverpool two for the price of one.

They've suddenly got Dietmar Hamann back.

Only this time, Hamann hits angled passes to the front three like Gerrard. He takes penalties like Gerrard. And he leads like Gerrard.

And no one leads like Gerrard. A veteran who turns 34 next month has maximised the carnage up front while minimising the calamities caused by the Keystone Kops at the back.

Liverpool's momentum in recent weeks has been encapsulated by their skipper.

Suarez is playing for success. Gerrard is playing for a city.

His momentum is as infectious as it is intoxicating.

In any other year, silversmiths would be engraving his name on the Player of the Year trophies now.

But this isn't any other year. This is Liverpool's year. And the skipper should lift the only trophy that really matters to him.

THE VERDICT

Suarez, by a whisker

OTHER NOMINEES

Daniel Sturridge (LIVERPOOL)

l Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

l Yaya Toure (Man City)

l Adam Lallana (Southampton)

PFA YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR

l Hazard

l Sturridge

l Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)

l Luke Shaw (Southampton)

l Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)

l Ross Barkley (Everton)

npsports@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 19 in The New Paper.

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