A hat-trick from Luis Suarez leads Liverpool to a 4-0 win over Wigan, with Philippe Coutinho producing another excellent display and Pepe Reina having one of his best performances of the season in goal.
Liverpool 4: Downing 2', Suarez 18' 34' 49'
Daniel Sturridge's fitness was the main concern to emerge from the announcement of the starting eleven--Joe Allen getting the start instead of Jordan Henderson was certainly bothersome, but with January's marquee signing again missing out through injury, very valid concerns were expressed about how much or how little he's going to be available moving forward. Philippe Coutinho was back after missing out against Zenit, though, again providing a bit of optimism heading into kickoff.
And we didn't have to wait long for the optimism to be rewarded, as the talented Brazilian feinted his way past Emmerson Boyce on the left flank and floated a perfect cross to the forehead of Stewart Downing. The winger had drifted centrally on the edge of the six yard box, and he made no mistake with the close-range header. Excellent work from the January signing, and the type of attacking awareness that we've been waiting for from Downing.
Neither side settled into the match particularly well from there, with the hosts giving away possession sloppily and Liverpool not exactly capitalizing on their early lead. The visitor's defense was haphazard and nervy, and were it not for Wigan's ineptness in the final third, the match could have been level. Thankfully another bit of Coutinho magic gave Liverpool their second on 18 minutes, this time with a threaded pass to Luis Suarez on the edge of the Wigan area, which the Uruguayan collected expertly and fired past Ali Al-Habsi after a feint sent the goalkeeper to ground early.
Pepe Reina came into the action in full just after Liverpool's second, denying a volley from Boyce just minutes after the goal from Suarez. History would repeat itself on both accounts just over ten minutes later, with Suarez scoring from a deflected free-kick to put the guests 3-0 up and Reina denying a Franco Di Santo header at the other end. Back and forth for much of the first half, but Liverpool's finishing proved the difference in what amounted to a very lopsided scoreline.
The contest was settled four minutes after the restart, with Glen Johnson bursting down the right side and past four Wigan defenders before knocking forward to Suarez, who took a touch before slotting through the legs of Al-Habsi for his hat-trick. Another few saves from Reina kept the match at a distance for Wigan, and Liverpool had their third straight win, giving them a 9-0 scoreline from their last two Premier League matches.
I'll get my whining out of the way first--I don't think Joe Allen should have started over Jordan Henderson, and his performance confirmed that. I think he's swell and will be a very good player for Liverpool, but I think Henderson's absence cost Liverpool a lot of the fluidity in the early going that they've enjoyed over the past few weeks. Nice to see him get a run out late, but that he was the only one was borderline inexcusable. Both Lucas and Allen on yellows and Steven Gerrard still in the midst of the ridiculous play every minute plan, and all we got was Henderson. The match was firmly in Liverpool's grasp, and if Lucas had gotten another booking (which he very nearly did), I'd be seething.
So there, that's what I'm pissy about. Other than that, I can't say enough good things about Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho, and Pepe Reina. The Uruguayan was at his tireless best, the Brazilian provided skill and precision to support Suarez, and the Spaniard turned in a vintage performance in goal, making no less than four impressive saves to deny Wigan a chance back into the match. Even in the absence of Sturridge, both Suarez and Coutinho were, at times, unplayable, and Reina shined without the support of his defense, who were shaky on a number of occasions.
It wasn't the best team performance from Liverpool by a long shot, with mostly a collection of individuals doing the work that earned the win. The three already mentioned settled the bookends, and Lucas marshaled the midfield expertly, again showing signs of a return to top-class form. Up and down through the rest of the squad, though, as the defense was, as mentioned, less than consistent, while Stewart Downing mostly kept up the improved form he's showed over the past months and got a goal to boot.
Overall, a solid win and one that sets the stage nicely for next week's home date with Spurs. Not because Liverpool need to win to inch closer to fourth--let's just all give that up already--but for the chance it affords the club to finally get a result against side on form and near the top of the table. Do that, and the table is set for a strong finish to the season and launching point for the next campaign.