Suarez finally makes return for Liverpool
Updated: February 02, 2012, 08:14
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LONDON(AP) Flying in the cup competitions and challenging for a top-four finish in the Premier League, Liverpool is a team brimming with confidence ahead of the long-awaited return of Luis Suarez for Monday's match against Tottenham at Anfield.
The Uruguay striker was sorely missed initially while he served an eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, with Andy Carroll struggling to step up as Suarez's replacement.
However, the team's last three matches have seen Liverpool reach the League Cup final at the expense of Manchester City, eliminate fierce rival Manchester United from the FA Cup and then ease past Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-0 in the Premier League.
Kenny Dalglish's team now has fourth-place Chelsea in its sights as the fight for Champions League qualification, which also includes Arsenal and Newcastle, looks set to intensify this weekend.
With Suarez back on board, Liverpool's embarrassing 3-1 loss to Bolton on Jan. 21 - the team's lowest point of the season - seems a distant memory.
"The results we've had have brought the team closer together,'' Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing said. "We've always been a close-knit group and are starting to show that on the pitch. It was just going to take some time before it started showing.''
Third-place Tottenham will attempt to burst Liverpool's bubble, just as it did in the reverse fixture in September when Harry Redknapp's side won 4-0 in an attacking masterclass at White Hart Lane.
Spurs are not only in a strong position to qualify again for the Champions League, they are also an outside bet for the title with just five points separating them from the Manchester clubs after Tuesday's 3-1 win over Wigan.
"We're back up there again,'' Redknapp said after the match. "I keep looking at the gap behind us. We're 13 points ahead of Arsenal now. It's a nice lead.''
Arsenal reduced that gap to 12 points by drawing 0-0 at Bolton on Wednesday, ending a run of three straight losses, and should be confident of victory when it hosts struggling Blackburn on Saturday.
Chelsea, which hosts second-place Manchester United in the standout match of the weekend on Sunday, is three points clear of fifth-place Newcastle with Liverpool a point behind in sixth. Arsenal is a point further back in seventh.
While the battle for fourth hots up, the title race also closed up following Manchester City's 1-0 loss to Everton, which left the leaders level on points with United.
With powerhouse midfielder Yaya Toure still at the African Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast, City has missed arguably its most important player in a month in which the team exited both cup competitions and had its five-point lead in the league wiped out.
City hosts 13th-place Fulham on Saturday and must stop in-form United States midfielder Clint Dempsey, who has scored 10 league goals this season.
"In a season, you are going to lose games - unfortunately you have to lose games at some point,'' City defender Vincent Kompany said. "We didn't want it to happen but we look forward and we still want to go on and bring the league back to Manchester City.''
United has won its past three league matches to rein in City and could welcome back England striker Wayne Rooney and Portugal winger Nani from injury for the trip to Stamford Bridge.
"It's still early doors (in the title race),'' United manager Alex Ferguson said. "I always say that March is a very important month, as well as the beginning of April. We play Manchester City in April, for instance.''
Newcastle hosts Aston Villa in Sunday's other match, with the rest of the weekend's matches on Saturday.
Bottom team Wigan is at home to Everton, Wolves travel to next-to-last Queens Park Rangers, Norwich hosts Bolton, eighth-place Sunderland looks to maintain its strong form under Martin O'Neill at Stoke and West Bromwich Albion is at home to Swansea.