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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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 By Mike Whalley

Rodgers backs Suarez for Player of Year

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez deserves to complete a remarkable rehabilitation by being crowned Player of the Year, according to his manager Brendan Rodgers.

Luis Suarez scored three times as Liverpool triumphed at Cardiff.
Luis Suarez's hat trick at Cardiff on Saturday took him to 28 Premier League goals this season.

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Suarez looked to be on his way out of Anfield after a turbulent few months last year that began when he bit Branislav Ivanovic during a Premier League match last April.

The Uruguay international was given a 10-match domestic ban for his attack on the Chelsea defender, and then went public the following month with his desire to leave Liverpool.

That sparked a drawn-out summer saga, during which Arsenal had two bids for Suarez rejected as Liverpool insisted they would not sell.

The 27-year-old ended up staying put, and has been in inspired form since returning from his suspension in late September.

He is the Premier League’s runaway leading scorer, with 28 goals, and at the forefront of Liverpool’s bid to win their first league title since 1990.

Suarez also signed a contract extension in December, committing him to staying at Anfield until 2018, and Rodgers believes personal accolades are also set to come the striker’s way.

Midfielder Gareth Bale -- then with Tottenham, now at Real Madrid -- won all three major domestic Player of the Year awards last season, and Liverpool’s manager thinks Suarez would be a worthy successor.

Rodgers said: "I wouldn’t have thought there are any reasons why he can’t win it. I think he was well on the way to winning it last season when he had that unfortunate incident towards the end, which may have curtailed that.

"But this year, he has been a model of brilliance. On the pitch, he's never been questioned. If anything, he has improved on that level this year.

"I think it's been nice for people to see the other side of him. People don't see he’s really quite a humble guy off the field who becomes a gladiator when he crosses the white line.

"In this country, I think we like to see good people doing well, so certainly for him it would be a wonderful step forward in his life and his career if he gets it."

Rodgers' side will be just a point behind Premier League leaders Chelsea if they can beat Sunderland at Anfield on Wednesday evening.

The manager has transformed Liverpool from also-rans into title contenders in the 21 months since he took the job, and said that building a team around Suarez had been key to that progress.

"At first, when I came in, I thought we needed to get goals into the team -- not for any individual, but for the team," he continued.

"I looked at it from the season before, saw the type of player Luis is and how he would suit the way I wanted to work. So, we structured the team around his qualities and built around that.

"Obviously as time goes on, you focus on the team, of which he’s a very important member. We have the ball for long periods and that gives him more of it in dangerous areas.

"He's been brilliant for me on and off the field. Of course he makes me earn my money at times, but he is a good man and has been incredible for Liverpool."

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