Liverpool defender Glen Johnson believes Luis Suarez has the strength of character needed to get him through the trial which awaits him at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The Uruguay international returned from his eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra as a substitute in Monday’s goalless draw at home to Tottenham.
He certainly made his presence felt in a 24-minute cameo, getting booked for kicking Scott Parker in the stomach and missing a late headed chance to win the game.
However, the appreciative response from the Anfield crowd on his first appearance since Boxing Day will be replaced by a hostile atmosphere at the home of their arch rivals at the weekend.
The traditionally fiery encounter between England’s two most successful clubs will come under even more scrutiny as Suarez comes face to face with Evra on the pitch for the first time since their clash in October.
But Johnson is confident that after being sidelined for six weeks the 25-year-old striker will be keen to focus on playing football again. “It is a tough place to go, Old Trafford. Luis is a strong character and he will try to let his football do the talking,” said the England international.
“He is a fantastic player, he has had a long break now and hopefully he will be fresh and ready to put in a performance at the weekend. He is the sort of player we need in the team.”
Team-mate Martin Kelly, whose appearance against Spurs was his first league start since the now-infamous game against the champions at Anfield on October 15, sees Suarez having a key part to play in the remainder of the season.
“The crowd gave us a lift when they saw Luis coming on and it’s fantastic to have him back,” said the 21-year-old.
“He’ll be a big help for us over the next few weeks when we’ve got big games coming up and he’ll be there ready for the (Carling Cup) final.”
Manager Kenny Dalglish, Suarez’s staunchest defender, risked re-opening the row over his lengthy suspension when he stated after the match he did not think the striker should have been banned at all.
“We are pleased and encouraged he is back,” added the Scot.
“Every time he gets the ball in and around the box expectation levels rise and it is just unfortunate we couldn’t get anything from it.”
The Reds are still only four points off Chelsea, who currently occupy the final Champions League qualification spot, but that only highlights how costly 16 dropped points at home have been.