Barcelona striker Luis Suarez claims Liverpool would never have mounted their unexpected title challenge last season without him. The Uruguay international scored 31 Premier League goals as the Reds finished runners-up to Manchester City and insists he left Anfield a happy man this summer, when a £75million deal took him to the Nou Camp. That contrasted sharply with his feelings at the start of his final campaign in England, for which he was suspended as he was still serving some of his 10-game ban for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, and he was made to train on his own after trying to manufacture a move away. While he was serving the remainder of his ban Liverpool picked up 10 points out of a possible 15 but having been reintegrated into the squad the striker returned with 19 goals in his first 12 league appearances as the Reds gathered increasing momentum on their way to second place. “Personal success is always welcome and makes you happy, because that’s recognition of the good work you have done,” said Suarez, who is due to receive the Golden Shoe for being Europe’s joint-leading scorer from Liverpool icon Kenny Dalglish in Barcelona this week. “But I put the team ahead of that and last season Liverpool came so close to winning the Premier League, which would have been spectacular.” Suarez added on fcbarcelona.com: “I appreciate all the work the team did but I missed six matches and scored all those goals in the Premier League without being the penalty-taker. “The truth is that I left very happy because if I hadn’t had the attitude and mentality to want to lead the team forward, I don’t think Liverpool would have done as well as they did either. “Getting back into the Champions League was another target I had in mind.” Press Association
JEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photoWhen the Big Ten schedule first came out, many cited the upcoming weekend as a “trap” game of sorts for the University of Wisconsin football team. Playing at Illinois, a Big Ten bottom feeder in recent years, the week before a road game against a Penn State team predicted to be among the league’s elite seemed like a potentially dangerous proposition for Wisconsin. Recent weeks have done nothing to change that. However, as the first leg of the two-game trip approaches, it is the Illini who are undefeated in Big Ten play and receiving more votes in national polls than the Nittany Lions, who are still looking for their first conference win. “They’re a very skilled team, don’t make many mistakes, and go out there and execute,” cornerback Allen Langford said. Illinois’ surprising start has a lot to do with its offense, which entered the week atop the Big Ten by a wide margin at running the football.”Up to right now, it is the best [offense] we’ve seen,” defensive lineman Mike Newkirk said. “They do execute; they’ve been playing some great ball. “It’s a big game for us. It’s a test.”Illinois has gained more than 255 yards per game on the ground thus far, nearly 40 yards more than Michigan State, the second-place team. What makes the Illini so difficult to defend is that the burden of carrying the ball is spread out across several different players.Running back Rashard Mendenhall sees the bulk of the work, but he is aided by quarterbacks Juice Williams and Eddie McGee and running back Troy Pollard — all of whom average more than 25 yards per game on the ground. “They’ve got good running backs, great speed, shifty,” Newkirk said. “I think the biggest thing right now is … they’re believing in themselves.”Illinois distributes the ball around effectively operating out of the spread, a type of offense Wisconsin has struggled to defend this season in games against UNLV and The Citadel. “In the past we haven’t done well against that type of offense,” Langford said. “Now it’s time for us to go ahead and try to be good against that type of offense.”Possibly because of past struggles facing spread offensive attacks, the fifth-ranked Badgers are a surprising 2.5-point underdog against the unranked Illini, a fact that doesn’t carry much weight in the UW locker room.”It has been made reference, maybe kind of as a motivational thing or maybe just as an eye-opener, a more realistic look to what people think we are,” Newkirk said. “We try not to pay attention to things like that too much. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but for us all that matters is our own opinion, and we believe.”With two games against spread offenses in the books already, Newkirk thinks the Badgers will be better prepared for what Illinois has to offer.”Maybe seeing a couple other teams earlier on in the year will give us a little bit of a look as far as [what to expect],” Newkirk said.The seemingly weekly task of answering questions about their success — or lack thereof — against the spread offense, has started to wear for some on the defense. “It is a little bit frustrating, every time. … We haven’t had the greatest performances against spread offenses to date, and every time a new one comes into town, then we’re always the question,” Newkirk said.”Hopefully we’re able to make the corrections we needed to make and that won’t be an issue anymore.”Corrections were the big story the last time Wisconsin faced Illinois. Much like the slow starts the Wisconsin defense has been plagued with this season, the Badgers fell behind big in the opening half thanks to the elusive Williams, and took a 24-10 deficit into the locker room at halftime. The defense made adjustments during the intermission and was able to hold the Illini scoreless in the second half to pull out a hard-fought 30-24 victory. “(Last year) we had a lot of fight, came back and won that game against a really good team,” Langford said. “This year it’s got to be a lot different. We gotta go out there and start fast and do our job from the start.”While the Badgers will, for the most part, know what to expect from the Illini running game, the same cannot be said for Illinois of Wisconsin’s. The running back position is a little murky backing up P.J. Hill. With Lance Smith ineligible to play due to suspension, the Badgers have many potential runners to spell Hill. The two main candidates are true freshmen: Zach Brown and Quincy Landingham. Brown has seen limited action thus far and Landingham none — he was a fall camp convert from safety — but Bielema is confident in both. A decision on who will be the main backup will be made Friday morning.”[Friday] we’ll discuss. … Actually it’s probably gonna be a good discussion because they both have practiced very, very well,” Bielema said.