Suarez 18' 34' 49'
Despite what you'd infer from the scoreline, Wigan actually out-shot Liverpool today. They out-passed and out-possessed Liverpool too, but more meaningful were the shots: the home side had 14 attempts to Liverpool's eight. Seven of Wigan's shots came in the penalty box; Reina saved five, two were blocked. Liverpool took six in the box, scoring with all three that were on target. That's it. That's the alpha and omega of this match. Recap over.
What? You want more? Fine.
Breaking news: when Suarez is good, Liverpool are good; when Suarez is ruthless, Liverpool score early and often. And Suarez was very good and very ruthless today, made even better because Liverpool had the second threatening attacker that Liverpool often need.
The addition of Sturridge and Coutinho has made more difference than we dared dream. The January window's been good to Liverpool over the last seven years: Agger, Mascherano, Skrtel, Suarez, and now those two. With Sturridge absent, there was a lot of pressure on Coutinho. And, as against Swansea, he didn't disappoint, creating the goals which killed the game before the 20th minute.
The first was remarkable control on a remarkably direct move: Reina's kick, Coutinho taking possession and dribbling around and past Boyce before chipping the perfect cross for a point-blank Downing header. 15 minutes later, it was his through-ball for Suarez after lovely work breaking out of Liverpool's half with Gerrard, followed by the Uruguayan feinting to force Al Habsi to the floor then slotting into the near corner.
From there, it was the Suarez show, adding yet another direct free kick in the 34th – his fifth of the season – then completing the hat-trick soon after the restart, toe-poking through Al Habsi's legs after a storming run from Johnson. It was the third hat-trick of his Liverpool career, all three away from Anfield. He's now top scorer in the league with 21 goals; Michael Owen never scored 20 in a league campaign, while Torres did it just once – his first season. I've long since run out of superlatives to describe just how special he is.
The last 40 minutes were a formality, with Liverpool content to soak up Wigan possession, with Reina twice there to prevent a consolation through Maloney. It was no surprise to see Liverpool strangle the life out of the match when so comfortable; the only surprise was that Rodgers made just one substitution – Henderson for Coutinho in the 71st – especially with both Allen and Lucas on a yellow. But it worked. I guess that's all that matters, although it also suggests that Rodgers' isn't especially happy with those currently on the bench.
Aside from Suarez and Coutinho, Reina was the other star of the show. He denied Kone in the first minute, not long before the long pass to Coutinho to set up Liverpool's first. He made a brilliant save to prevent Boyce from pulling one back at 2-0, as well as a slightly easier save on Caldwell, then made an even better stop on di Santo's header just after Liverpool scored its third. Again, Wigan had six shots on target, the same number as Liverpool, but Reina repulsed each and every one. We'd seen some flashes of brilliance, even in matches where he's been error-prone, but this was Reina's most complete match since 2008-09.
Gerrard and Lucas made more tackles than any other player, Allen was diligent and clever if subdued, Johnson and Enrique bombed up and down the flanks, and Carragher did well against the dangerous Kone. But the key to the game, the key to Liverpool's success, was converting its chances. With almost three quarters of the season gone, this should be news to no one.
With ten games left to play, Liverpool already have six more goals than they scored through the entire league campaign last season. As Opta's head of content pointed out, the last six league wins have been by a combined scoreline of 24-0: 4-0, 3-0, 3-0, 5-0, 5-0, and 4-0. Unfortunately, in between has been a 1-3 loss, a 1-2 loss, two 2-2 draws, and an 0-2 loss.
Progress continues, and continues to be evident. There was little fear of Wigan again proving to be a bogey side, with Liverpool winning at the DW Stadium for the first time since September 2007, and little fear of Liverpool going through the motions after its Europa League exit.
There's obviously still some distance to go, but that distance has been drastically shortened by the addition of Sturridge and Coutinho. And we – you, me, Rodgers – know where Liverpool's problems lie. When Liverpool score early, Liverpool usually score often. When Liverpool keep a clean sheet, Liverpool usually win; there have been just two 0-0 draws all season, the last in November. But when Liverpool concede…