Liverpool currently sits outside the coveted top five in the Premier League table, and they could have a hard time gaining ground in the weeks ahead.

Liverpool’s Luis Suarez (left) has been banned for eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra (right) during an Oct. 15 match. (Tim Hales/AP)

Suarez, whose five goals give him three more than any other Liverpool player, has maintained his innocence and will have 14 days to appeal the decision after he receives it in writing.

Liverpool responded with sharp criticism of the findings of the investigation, insisting Evra also deserved punishment.

As quoted in the Daily Mail, the team’s statement read:

“We find it extraordinary that Luis can be found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone when no-one else on the field of play — including many of Evra’s own Manchester United team-mates and all the match officials — heard the alleged conversation between the two players in a crowded Kop goalmouth while a corner kick was about to be taken.”

The club also said it is “incredible to us that a player of mixed heritage should be accused and found guilty in the way he has based on the evidence presented. We do not recognize the way in which Luis Suarez has been characterised.”

(The Telegraph has published the full statement here.)

Suarez, whose grandfather was black, according to Liverpool’s statement, expressed his disappointment on Twitter.

Today is a very difficult and painful day for both me and my family. Thanks for all the support, I’ll keep working!...

— Luis Suarez (@luis16suarez) December 20, 2011

Here are the findings from an independent regulatory commission’s decision:

1. Mr. Suarez used insulting words towards Mr. Evra during the match contrary to FA Rule E3(1);

2. the insulting words used by Mr. Suarez included a reference to Mr. Evra’s colour within the meaning or Rule E3(2);

3. Mr. Suarez shall be warned as to his future conduct, be suspended for eight matches covering all first team competitive matches and find the sum of £40,000;

4. the [penalty] is suspended pending the outcome of any appeal lodged by Mr. Suarez against this decision.

(H/T SB Nation)