The match ball rewarded another show of ruthless efficiency from Luis Suárez and strengthened the case for the player-of-the-year award to follow. Two factors count against him. One is that Robin van Persie has shaped the destiny of the title rather than a club's modest rise from the lower reaches to seventh in the table. The other is Luis Suárez.
Liverpool's leading striker became the Premier League's leading marksman with a hat-trick befitting a devastating, hungry away performance from Brendan Rodgers' team. It is 21 league goals and counting for the outstanding Uruguay international, 28 in total for the season. Three more from the final 10 league matches would equal Fernando Torres' haul of 24 for the club in 2007-08. A further seven would bring Suárez level with Robbie Fowler's Premier League record of 28 from 1995-96.
Suárez's influence on Rodgers' debut campaign as Liverpool manager exceeds those statistics. In carrying the threat almost single-handedly until January he allowed the new manager's tactics to develop before the pressure from an underwhelming start became overwhelming. Rodgers' ideals were stamped through this victory at the DW Stadium where, with the new signing Philippe Coutinho enhancing the performance and displaying immediate rapport with Suárez, they pressed and passed a hapless Wigan defence into submission.
With Suárez producing his second hat-trick of the season from Coutinho's perfect pass, a deflected free-kick and following a fine run and release from Glen Johnson, Rodgers reiterated his belief that a failure to qualify for Europe will not turn the striker's head away from Anfield this summer. The second prevalent theme is Suárez's candidacy for player of the year.
The Liverpool manager stated his unequivocal vote for the striker before the trip to Wigan but, afterwards, even the optimist that is Rodgers conceded the controversies attached to Suárez this season alone might cloud the final judgment.
Asked if voters would take a dispassionate view, Rodgers replied: "I am not sure. Everyone understands his passion and he has got himself into trouble a couple of times. But I don't think there is anyone – when you come away and judge the player of the season on performance level and goals – then I can't see how you can look any further than him and I would hope other people will do that, certainly the professionals within the game. He is a class act and a genuine world-class player."
Suárez had the game settled within 34 minutes when he produced Liverpool's third. The visitors were en route to victory from their first attack thanks to the collectors' item of a Stewart Downing header from Coutinho's delightful cross and a calamitous first-half offering from Wigan. They were a shambles defensively, careless and out-fought in midfield and at each other's throats when Emmerson Boyce and James McArthur almost came to blows following yet another error. And yet it demonstrated Liverpool's defensive vulnerability that Pepe Reina made four excellent saves to preserve his first clean sheet away from Anfield this year.
"It was an outstanding performance and he made saves at critical moments," said Rodgers. "Sometimes these goals away can change the momentum of the game. His pass for the first goal was outstanding and he was deserving of his clean sheet. Overall, it was a great team performance."
Liverpool's first win at Wigan since 2007 suggested it will require a greater escape than usual for Roberto Martínez's team to pull clear of danger. Disharmony was not restricted to the spat between McArthur and Boyce. Franco Di Santo headed straight down the tunnel when substituted, before being ordered back out, and Gary Caldwell received a verbal volley from supporters when he was replaced. "We are in a dangerous situation," the Wigan manager admitted. "For the first 20 minutes we weren't anywhere near the level you need to be to play against a team like Liverpool."
The severity of the defeat will shape Martínez's thinking for the FA Cup quarter-final at Everton on Saturday. He added: "It is an important game but in the position we are in after this result we need to find the best possible team to carry on playing in the league. We want success in the cup but never at the price that it would affect our league campaign. That's something that I will never allow to happen."
Man of the match Luis Suárez (Liverpool)