Pitchside

Only one possible winner in three-horse race for Player of Season honour

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Eden Hazard, Luis Suarez and Yaya Toure

There might still be two months to go in the title race, but the experts at Squawka.com are ready to declare the battle for Player of the Season honours is already over.

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Yaya Toure and Eden Hazard can both put forward justifiable shouts for this season's Player of the Year award, but Luis Suarez's astonishing rise to prominence once more in the English game simply has to see him seal the prize.

Luis Suarez's campaign began as the last one ended: with him sat from the outside peering in after his eight-match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic during last season's eventful 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Anfield.

Suarez was left to sit and admire the form of fellow frontman Daniel Sturridge as the England international struck all three goals in the Reds' run of consecutive 1-0 wins at the start of this season.

His latest indiscretion had threatened to affect the Uruguayan in the same way his racial abuse of Patrice Evra had done so at Anfield the season beforehand - and after a summer of "will he, won't he" regarding a mooted £40m+ move to Arsenal, Suarez's attempts to leave left Reds fans up in arms.

His plea in a newspaper interview to be freed from his shackles on Merseyside was, admirably, refused flatly by manager Brendan Rodgers, with the Gunners' cunning but ultimately naive £40m + £1 bid rejected out of hand after it emerged that the release clause they were counting on didn't actually exist as such.

Suarez is to be lauded for what happened next, but Rodgers deserves equal praise for a masterstroke that saw him bring his enigma to the fore, and then helping him forget about the summer saga - something which has had a major bearing on both sides' seasons.

Arsenal's lack of potency, having not parted with the sufficient sums needed to attract Suarez to the Emirates, is epitomised best by Olivier Giroud's increasingly cumbersome presence up top, with the Frenchman unable to have any sort of telling impact in any of the big games this season.

If there is to be a negative accusation levelled at Suarez this year, then it comes in the fact he too has failed to fire against any of Liverpool's title rivals. It is a statistic that needs to change, you sense, if the Reds are to go on and realise the increasing possibility of winning a first league title in 24 years.

Admittedly, Suarez had a huge hand in his side's recent 5-1 success over the team he almost signed for Arsenal as he grabbed an assist and set up four chances. He would have had another assist to his name had Raheem Sterling not been so wasteful with his finishing in defeat at Manchester City during the festive period.

Ultimately, though, nit-picking away at Suarez's occasional no-shows is a fruitless exercise given his sustained splendour. The statistics speak for themselves.

His 28 goals this season leave him well placed to do what only six players have managed in the Premier League era: reaching the 30-goal mark. It has happened just eight times in total, with Alan Shearer achieving the feat on three separate occasions, but most notably it will be the first time a Liverpool striker has done so.

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It underlines the struggles the Reds have faced since the old First Division became the Premier League and though Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen have featured prominently in the goalscoring charts, it is Suarez whose form has been the most startling.

His 28 goals this season leave him eight clear of closest competitor Sturridge, with Toure and Hazard on 17 and 14 respectively.

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Most incredibly, however, is how spread out his goals have been this season.

His tally is across 26 games in total, but Suarez has failed to find the net in 11 of those matches. On the days when he has scored, he's averaged 1.86 goals per match.

The avalanche of goals has taken in a simply stunning six braces, two hat-tricks and a four-goal haul against the team he relishes taking on most. That side is Norwich City, against whom he has plundered eight in three games in the past two seasons.

Hazard has 14 from 31, but has only scored in 10 of those matches, working out at 1.4 goals a game on the days when he finds the net. Yaya Toure's tally, on the same basis, works out at 1.31 per game.

Looking at the goals-per-game ratio across all matches, the Ivorian has an average return of 0.61, with Hazard on 0.45 per game. And Suarez? 1.08 per game.

That firepower has left many mentioning Suarez in the same breath as Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the Uruguayan could eclipse both those greats by taking both the goalscorer and assist-maker crowns for the season. His own team-mate Steven Gerrard and Manchester United's Wayne Rooney are the only two players who appear placed highly enough to deprive him of the assists accolade.

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Remarkably, when you consider the following Comparison Matrix, it is actually Hazard who creates the most chances, with 84 to his name this term. Were Chelsea to possess a striker of Suarez's ilk, his seven assists might have been at least doubled by this stage of the season.

Suarez himself has produced 74 opportunities for his team-mates as well as 63 key passes. Hazard leads the way once more with 77, while Toure's efforts by this count pale by comparison, with 32 and 27 respectively.

Hazard may prevail in shot accuracy (62%) and Toure somewhat surprisingly dwarfs his fellow competitors successful take on rate with 76.47%.

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In terms of Squawka's overall, 'total score' statisitcs, Suarez leads the way with a tally of 1,503 compared to 1,223 for Hazard and 1,075 for Toure. Toure is actually outscored by Gerrard on that overall number, with 1,118.

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Given his combination of goals and assists, Suarez seems head and shoulders above his competition for Player of the Season honours - but strangely enough, his efforts to keep ahead in that race will the title run-in itself.

The idea of the Reds mounting a title challenge looked like a fans' pipe dream back in August. But if Suarez keeps up the form that he's shown so far this season, it could look far more tangible by the end of May.

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