Liverpool's Destruction Of Wigan: We Should Have Won By More
Is it somewhat ingracious to feel slightly disappointed after a 4-0 away victory?
Nights like tonight you expect to be about the subtext. You half expect the game itself to be subsumed by the history, the backstory.
You expect the path of the match to be dictated not by the relative strengths of Liverpool and Wigan but by the fact that over the last few years this has become a fixture where Liverpool have routinely conspired to shoot themselves in both feet at a point where a win would be advantageous.
You couple this with the fact that this is the point in the year when Wigan generally decide that it's time to wake up and mount some kind of fight against the relegation trap they once again find themselves mired in.
Combine that with the fact that Wigan's Roberto Martínez was interviewed for the, at the time vacant, Liverpool post before Brendan Rodgers was appointed (and was, according to his account, offered the job) and the that the only way anybody knew anything of the events surrounding Liverpool's search for a manager last summer came from Wigan chairman Dave Whelan's seemingly ceaseless inability to stop himself from talking to the media. You have there the script you need for another day of disaster for Liverpool in a season strewn with self-inflicted injury.
What you don't expect is a comfortable Saturday teatime's viewing.
The evening was given the perfect start with that rarest of events, a headed Stewart Downing goal and finalised with a Luis Suárez hat trick, unusually not coming against Norwich.
By the 48th minute the game was over and had, instead, been transformed into a training ground exercise on how to effectively protect a lead and see out a victory but prior to that we had seen Liverpool continue their recent strong form to ruthlessly exploit a disjointed, ineffectual Wigan side. The early star of the show had been Philippe Coutinho; his clever shimmy to provide space for the cross to the gratefully unmarked Downing after 101 seconds of the game, the intelligent cut back slot a pin point pass to Suárez for his first of the evening, his constant movement, vision and use of the ball indicating a fan favourite in the making.
Other positives of the night?
Pepe Reina: the victory may appear comfortable but Reina was responsible for two superlative saves in the first half to ensure a clean sheet, the evening could have been a lot closer.
Steven Gerrard: tonight proved for the first time that Lucas and Joe Allen are able to function as an effective axis to allow Gerrard to excel. In a season that started with many doubting Gerrard's ability to adapt to Rodgers' playing style he has become more impressive with each passing week; against Wigan he was, very quietly, everywhere. He was able to display is entire passing range, covered the entire midfield and orchestrated the game
And obviously the star of the evening was, yet again, Luis Suárez. His first from Coutinho's pin point pass, his second from a slightly deflected free kick and the third of his hat-trick slotted through Ali Al-Habsi's legs after a magnificent surging run from Glen Johnson on the right.
The only disappointment of the evening, an evening of easy domination, was that Suárez did not add further to his tally having already become the Premier League's leading scorer during the game. Surely it can only now be his (mostly media manufactured) public profile that can prevent him from receiving the Player of the Year accolade? Gareth Bale may be in the midst of transforming Spurs into the ultimate one man team but can anybody genuinely claim that he has had a better season overall than Suárez?
Again we can point out that this was another victory against a team in the lower half of the league – and struggling there at that – but this was another positive display by a Liverpool team who appear to have started to thrive on transition. There may be nothing left to play for this season other than the local dispute over placings and the possibility of Europa League qualification but the building for next season has started with the introduction of the lively Coutinho and (missing through injury tonight) Daniel Sturridge.
How these first steps are progressing now will be most accurately assessed next Sunday with the visit of the aforementioned Gareth Bale and his supporting cast.