Kelly Carragher Skrtel Johnson
Maxi Lucas Aurelio
All good things must come to an end. Would you rather have taken a draw at Stamford Bridge and a win today?
This was one of those frustrating games we've seen all too often. For some reason, they keep occurring against Wigan, who Liverpool haven't beaten in the last three attempts. Liverpool never looked wholly comfortable and ended up paying for it. Pick your cliché about the fragility of a one-goal lead. With Gerrard and Agger missing, Dalglish reverted to four at the back, handing Suarez his first start. Meireles was the most attacking midfielder in a formation best-described as 4-3-1-2.
It took 15 minutes for the home side to gel, ignoring a fourth-minute penalty "shout" when Suarez went down in the box. The Uruguayan was at the center of Liverpool's attack, constantly looking to play clever one-twos, but couldn't quite make the breakthrough despite some very smart touches and an excellent work-rate.
Kuyt's bobbled effort from the top of the box in the 18th marked the turn in fortunes, with Liverpool starting to take control, and Meireles soon opened the scoring yet again with his fifth goal in six matches. Gohouri could only half-clear Aurelio's cross, setting up a crashing volley past Al-Habsi. Four of Meireles' five goals have been volleyed strikes if we count the bouncing bazooka which won last Sunday's match.
Three minutes later, the lively Suarez cannoned off the foot of the far post after dismembering a Wigan defender with a shoulder feint. But Liverpool couldn't get the always-needed second goal, and Wigan ended the half stronger after 20 or so minutes of Liverpool dominance.
Liverpool stayed slightly ahead on the balance of play after the interval, but were again punished against the run of play in the 65th after scrambling a free kick clear. N'Zogbia sent a cross back in, Alcaraz ever-so-slightly flicked on, and an offside Gohouri was on hand to tap in at the far post. After a few deep breaths, it's almost understandable that the linesman missed the touch which put Gohouri offside. Nonetheless, it's a harsh way to lose the lead.
Substitutions also hurt Liverpool today. Meireles had to come off in the 54th because of "sickness," but both his and Kuyt's exit could be blamed on midweek exertions and an eye on Thursday's Europa League match. Neither Ngog nor Jovanovic could make anywhere near the needed impact.
With 10 defenders permanent ensconced in Wigan's half, Liverpool's best chances following the equalizer came from free kicks. Aurelio and Maxi wasted theirs wildly over the bar, while Suarez hit the woodwork for the second time with 10 minutes remaining. Opportunities from open play were next to nonexistant; crosses and shots were quickly blocked by diving defenders. Wigan could have been down to 10 men prior to Suarez's free kick – Caldwell should have seen a second yellow for again fouling the new #7 – but Kevin Friend did Liverpool few favors today.
We saw the detriment of international friendlies today. The break halted the momentum built up over the last four games. Not only did Liverpool miss Agger – a surprise omission – but players were clearly tired, especially Kuyt and Lucas.
Suarez was lively, and he'll be scoring from the positions he got into today before we know it. The way he looked to link up with other attackers, playing those quick one-twos and bursting forward will align well with the talents of Gerrard, Meireles, and Carroll. Meireles continued his hot vein of form. Kelly again played beyond his tender age. But no matter the positives, today's result still feels like a loss. There are no easy matches in the Premier League, but two points dropped at home to Wigan is regrettable to say the very least.
It's still six games without a loss – only Arsenal can boast the same results over that period – but today was an expected victory after last week's triumph. Liverpool's now dropped seven points from winning positions in Dalglish's seven league games – against Blackpool, Everton, and now Wigan. Comparably, the side dropped nine during Hodgson's 20 games. At least Liverpool are getting into winning positions more often.
Liverpool now have two weeks before the next league match, a trip to West Ham against another a relegation candidate. Both legs of the Europa League knock-out round will be played prior. By then, everyone should be fit, hopefully including Liverpool's £35m signing. Let's hope momentum is as easily restarted as it was lost today.