Luis Suárez became the league's top scorer with a hat-trick against abject Wigan with Coutinho playing a pivotal role too
Peep! And that's that. Liverpool were good – particularly Coutinho and Suárez, who is now the league's top scorer. Wigan were worse than terrible. They can't afford to be half as bad as that again this season if they expect to keep their top-flight status. They sit one place above the relegation zone. But Villa have a game in hand. Mercifully for Wigan, it's against Man City. Liverpool move up to seventh, three points behind Everton. Thanks for your emails. I'm off to celebrate. Did I say celebrate? I meant salivate. Erm, yes, I'm hungry.
90+2 min: "I agree shout outs are so passe," begins Richard Sherwood, building up to something. "I'd love to big up the Liverpool fans for giving mad props to Rafa though, god I love that man." Richard, you disappoint me. Mad props is something that is only heard in a teenager's head.
90 min: There'll be two more minutes of this, you know.
89 min: Nothing has happened. Oh no, actually a Liverpool fan has set off another flare. That makes the match officially 16% as good as the clásico. And that was only good in the second half.
86 min: Suárez, all arms legs, growls and spittle, scuttles into the box and looks second best to get to the ball ahead of Al Habsi. His industry is rewarded with a corner as the Wigan keeper palms the ball away from Suárez as though it is a weapon that Suárez can hurt him with. Gerrard whips in the corner. Agger gets a head to it and the ball arrives at Henderson's feet. He jabs a foot at it and sees his effort cleared off the line.
85 min: Pass, pass, pass, pass go Liverpool. Puff, pant, puff, pant go Wigan. Mártinez really needs to sort out his defence. They can't begin games as badly as they have today and expect to stay up.
84 min:"Your music theory disproved," begins Joe Pearson. "Steven Gerrard - Phil Collins. Not exactly QED. And I'm a big Genesis fan, too." Yeah, fair enough Joe, but there are worse crimes. Not many. But some.
82 min: Liverpool counterattack sharply, with Downing, who finds Henderson to his left. He plays in Allen, who is tackled brilliantly by Scharner just as he is about to get his shot away. "Seeing as this game's over, Gregg, how about a shout out for the world-famous Dundee United FC who play their local rivals tomorrow for a place in the Scottish Cup semi-finals? El Clasico, shell shmlassico. It is ON!" screams Simon McMahon. You've turned this MBM into Radio 1 Simon. I prefer mentions, not shout outs.
78 min: Maloney forces a smart save from Reina after McManaman beats Enrique with a burst of pace on the right. His cross is hung up to the back post, where Maloney takes a touch, drops his right shoulder and whips in a low shot that Reina gets a strong left hand to before Enrique sweeps up the loose ball.
76 min: Wigan are working their way towards Liverpool's penalty box with increasing regularity. They are getting no further than it, mind. I still can't get over Henderson going to a Justin Bieber concert. I mean, how old is he? I have a theory that the better a player's music taste, the better the player. Hence why Alonso is a fan of Wilco and Tame Impala. Although Henderson's recent upturn in form may be down to him being handed the Drive Soundtrack or something.
74 min: Oh Jordan! This is unforgivable.
72 min: The Liverpool fans sing Rafa Benítez's name as loud as any other at the DW Stadium tonight. That will probably make Chelsea fans boo louder but ho-hum.
70 min: Coutinho is replaced by Henderson. I'd have thought it would make more sense to bring Lucas off before he is sent off. Anyway, the Brazilian has been very good tonight and gets a rousing reception from the 4,000 Liverpool fans who have made the trip down the road for this underwhelming M58-ico.
69 min: Jordan Henderson is readying himself to come on. "I'd say Liverpool have been very good against some very bad sides, but they've also been very bad against some awful teams, and occasionally very good against good teams (should've done the double over City). Just another in a growing line of maddeningly inconsistent seasons. I'm still happy to give B-Rod time, though," writes Captain Corduroy. I'm sure Rodgers is delighted to have your support Mr Corduroy.
67 min: Reina makes another decent stop from a Maloney header. At the second attempt he rather flaps at his punch though, but Enrique is on hand to clear the danger.
64 min: This has become a nothing game. Liverpool don't need to do any more than what they are doing, which isn't very much. Meanwhile Wigan are huffing and puffing and showing willing, without going anywhere. Lucas clatters into Maloney 30 yards from goal. He's already been booked and needs to be careful here. A red card would be daft in a game like this. I suspect Rodgers will take him off ASAP.
61 min: McManaman is on for Wigan in place of Beausejour. Yup, more Liverpool bias from me.
Read into this what you will. I tend to think Liverpool have been very good against very bad sides.
59 min: "As a Villa fan, can I just thank Wigan for being even worse than us," writes Christopher Drew.
56 min: Reina has an awkward moment when rushing out of his goal to collect a through-ball intended for Koné, which evokes memories (bad ones for the Spaniard) of the Aguero goal at City. On this occasion Koné doesn't manage to nick it away from Reina, and the Spaniard falls over the ball when trying to collect it and watches it drift out for a goal-kick.
53 min: Wigan attack, kind of. A bobbled ball into the box constitutes a Wigan attack in this match. They have not been able to cope with Liverpool's midfield. Gerrard, who has been very quiet, has diligently gone about his work, connecting the dots in the middle of the park and, along with Lucas, has intelligently and economically made use of possession. Wigan have done anything but.
51 min: Caldwell is substituted. He appears to have an injury to his right thigh. He is replaced by Espinoza. I suspect he couldn't wait to get off. He's been handed his backside out there. Di Santo is replaced by Alcaraz.
Did I say that was better from Wigan? Within moments they are caught out at the back by nothing more than an ambling run forwards from Glen Johnson, who is allowed to run 30 yards past three Wigan players without so much as sensing a tackle, before releasing Suárez, who easily gets away from Caldwell, races in on goal from the inside-right channel and finishes through Al Habsi's legs with the outside of his right foot before sliding with glee face first towards the Liverpool fans behind the goal. That's Premier League goal number 21 for the Uruguayan.
45 min: Peep! It's the second half, sponsored by me. The Dave Whelan-drome sounds pretty damn quiet. Wigan win an early free-kick. Caldwell plays it short to McCArthur and Wigan actually build a move worthy of a Premier League football team. Their passing is crisp and has a reasonable pace to it. The resulting cross from McCarthy presents Reina with little more than catching practice. But it's better. It could only be better.
"I think I'll watch the second half just to see if Boyce and McArthur
do a Bowyer-Dyer impersonation," writes JR from Illinois, whose options on a Saturday night must be pretty limited if he's sticking with this MBM. "Could this performance be a signal that this might be the year Wigan
don't escape going down?" On this showing, I think you could be right.
"As legal representative for the Keystone Kops, I would hereby advise you to choose your words carefully when attempting to describe Wigan's defending. Writs may follow if you compare my clients with this rabble," writes Paul Griffin, who perhaps wants to sue himself by giving me the chance to publish said description. Yes, Wigan have been dire. But not just at the back, all over the pitch.
I've just seen a replay of Suárez's first goal and I don't think I did his first touch justice. As good as Coutinho's ball was drilled into him, Suárez's touch to take the weight out of the pass and take it in his stride was sublime. His finish wasn't half bad too. Gave Al Habsi the eyes and slotted it to his left.
"Where's the Mackem Messi?" asks Paul Ewart, making a comparison between Jordan Henderson and the best player in the world that is so ludicrous I don't know where to begin, so I won't. "He's been better than the Welsh Xavi in recent games. I'm loving the score but there's no getting away from the fact that this is a poor game between two mid-table sides. Could easily be 3-2 if not for Reina and the the ball is being given away at will. More goals in this … how does it compare to El Clasico?." It's about 14% of El Clásico, and I'm being generous there. Coutinho and Suárez make up that 14% too.
45+2 min: Lucas is booked for a foul on Maloney. Beausejour steps up to try and salvage something from an absolute horror show of a half for Wigan. But his curled effort is tipped round the post by Reina, and the whistle goes for half-time.
45 min: Suárez, gives away a free-kick while chasing back into the Liverpool half to try to regain possession. Among his many other assets, I believe it is the Uruguayan's insatiable appetite to be on the ball at every opportunity that makes him so loved by Liverpool fans. You get the impression that he would put just as much effort into winning a kickabout on the local rec if his team was losing.
43 min: Wigan are doing less then precious little. Liverpool are doing just a little bit more than precious little, yet it is still too much for the poor Latics. "I'm wearing a Cincinnati Reds T-shirt. Do I get my email printed? For bonus points, I went to Indiana University, whose colors are red and white," writes Joe Pearson. Ticks all the right boxes for me Joe.
40 min: Suárez is now the league's top scorer with 20 goals, one ahead of Van Persie. That is a fact. But send your accusations of bias my way if you like. He's fortunate to be as that free-kick was a joke. One that Wigan probably didn't find very funny.
37 min: Wigan do actually do something. Beausejour clips a decent ball into the box from the left-hand side, Di Santo leaps highest and powers a header at Reina, who does very well to tip it over the bar as it was going at a fair old pace. The resulting corner comes to nothing and Liverpool gain control once more.
36 min: It would be nice if Wigan did something so this MBM didn't look like the Liverpool love-in that it has become. But Wigan are abject. Send your accusations of bias my way.
This is a disaster for Wigan. Suárez slips as he runs up and, rhough falling over, he manages to curl a harmless shot the way of goal only for it to deflect of Maloney's face, clatter the post and squirm inside Al Habsi as the goalkeeper dives past looking somewhat confused.
32 min: Suárez is tripped, I think by McCarthy, 25 yards from goal just to the left of centre. Suárez to take it. Here he comes …
31 min: Wigan are disintegrating out there. Every pass is ending up at Liverpool feet. Boyce has had a spat with McCarthur and the natives sound restless, in a quiet pissed off kind of way.
29 min: It's got a bit scrappy out there. Lucas is lectured for a clumsy tackle on Di Santo. He actually slipped as he made the challenge which made it look much worse than it was.
27 min: "How in the heck did Coutinho only get 15 games for Inter?" flabbergasts Hubert O'Hearn. "I know it's very, very early days yet but the lad is quality through and through. Shame Liverpool will have to sign not one but two new centre-backs in the summer as the rest of the team actually looks quite good." Steady now Hubert. It's very, very, very, very early days and, as creative as Coutinho looks against a second-string Swansea and this shambling Wigan team, he has yet to be tested properly by some proper defenders or a midfielder who actually tries to mark him.
24 min: The two Liverpool goals have pretty much killed this half. They are popping the ball around comfortably. Wigan, meanwhile, are giving away the ball like a vendor at a gig giving out flyers.
22 min: "I live in Austria and Austria has a lot of red on its flag!! Does this mean I stand a chance of getting my name in print?" asks Neil Stainthorpe. Yes. Oh, and that Liverpool corner came to nothing, of course.
20 min: The match has burst into life. Boyce forces a fantastic one-handed stop from Reina after pouncing on a loose clearance in the Liverpool area and volleying towards the top-left corner of the Spaniard's goal. Then Liverpool break, Suárez almost gets clear after wriggling into the box and Liverpool win a corner.
This is all about the patience and passing ability of Coutinho. He advanced to the edge of the box checked back to his right as he saw Suárez set off in front of him before delaying his slide-rule pass until Suárez could burst through into the box to finish neatly into the left-hand side of Al Habsi's goal.
13 min: Wigan finally settle down. Only after Liverpool threatened to score through some neat interplay from Coutinho, Allen and Gerrard, though, who, like some kind of synchronised dance troupe, ran into the box as one, meaning that when Allen's pass was intercepted there was no one in Liverpool's midfield to follow-up.
11 min: "Skrtel not on the bench? Punishment for comments he made in the week?" asks Brian McGinn. Perhaps Brian. Although I had heard he had a knock. He's certainly had a talent-knock this season. Liverpool are still very much in control. Coutinho is drifting into space between Wigan's defence and midfield and making himself a nuisance at every opportunity.
8 min: Liverpool have settled into their comfortable possession game, which means they they are highly likely to have a worrying moment at the back any minute now. Koné provides such a moment, gaining possession on the inside-left channel, dipping inside Carragher but then getting his feet into an unholy mess and allowing Liverpool to clear.
6 min: "Let me be the first person to cry about your clear Liverpool bias. Of course the first email you post is from a fellow Red. The game has
only just started and already I am outraged," writes JR in Illinois, who is really about as outraged as a happy camper on his way to Glastonbury. It was the only email I had JR.
4 min: That was a very Wigan way of starting a match. They looked paper thin at the back during that attack. Coutinho's quick feet to get away from Boyce will please Brendan Rodgers, though. That rare skill has been missing at Liverpool at times this season.
Well, Wigan outdo Liverpool for an early example of slack defending here. Coutinho races on to a long clearance from Reina. He holds the ball up, draws a challenge mightily easy from Boyce before scuttling to the byline and dinking a looping ball into the six-yard box for Downing who, unmarked, heads home.
1 min: Wigan, and in particular Kone, have a very good chance to go ahead within 30 seconds. Di Santo works the ball out to the right for Maloney. He takes a touch and under very little pressure, crosses to Kone, who doesn't get a firm touch on the ball under no pressure.
The Liverpool fans have already let a red flare off in the away end, giving the fixture a backdrop that resembles middle earth.
I'm quite looking forward to doing a direct comparison between the clásico and Wigan v Liverpool. These two teams are both very good at popping the ball around without threatening much. It may well be like watching the two Barcelona-lites. Nothing against Wigan, either but the DW Stadium could not contrast more with the Bernabéu.
"Glad to see The Guardian is letting you report on a proper match after that second rate Iberian puffball," wibbles Paul Ewart. "As a Red it saddens me to see the treatment being meted out to Rafa by the Chelsea fans, I'm yet to work out quite what he's done to deserve it. Having said that, he doesn't help himself does he? Don't quite know what to make of the Brenda project. I like the way he engages with the supporters and I certainly like his football principles but our defence has gone backwards this season and Stevie still hasn't found a cure for passing to the opposition. Still, give the man time, Sturridge looks a great buy and he's managed the young players well. Lord help us if Suárez does one though …"
Wigan: Al Habsi, Kone, McCarthy, Caldwell (Capt), Di Santo, Maloney, McArthur, Boyce, Beausejour, Figueroa, Scharner.
Subs: Robles, Alcaraz, Henriquez, Gomez, McManaman, Espinoza, Stam.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Enrique, Agger, Carragher, Lucas, Allen, Gerrard, Downing, Coutinho, Suarez.
Subs: Gulacsi, Wisdom, Shelvey, Assaidi, Henderson, Coates, Suso.
So still no Sturridge for Liverpool as he recovers from a thigh injury. Coutinho starts, so the onus will be on him to try to give Suárez a helping hand in Sturridge's absence. He'll be a more subtle attacking presence.
Liverpool haven’t had much joy at the DW Stadium in recent years. The last time they won there was in 2007. The last time they played there, in December 2011, a dire 0-0 draw was notable only for those Luis Suarez T-Shirts the players wore in the warm-up.
Having just had a nine-day break, thanks to their FA Cup defeat to Oldham and Swansea’s trip to Wembley, you’d expect Liverpool to be favourites to win today. But it’s hard to know what mood the players must be in after recent results. A walk in Stanley Park would have been no more taxing than the 5-0 home victory over a weakened and distracted Swansea. The win over Zenit confirmed only an agonising exit from the last remaining competition they could win. Two good victories yet deflation on the back of them.
It’s been the story of Liverpool’s season that on every occasion they have looked like taking a big leap forwards, they have stumbled and taken a step back. At times they have been ruthlessly punished for the slightest mistake – Aguero’s equaliser at Manchester City, for example. But they have also shot themselves in the foot numerous times with slipshod marking, keystone cops defending – and goalkeeping – and a lack of physicality in matches they have otherwise dominated.
That’s not to say that progress hasn’t been made. It has. Brendan Rodgers clearly has a plan. His vision for Liverpool is more clearly seen on the pitch than it is when he tries to explain it in often comic interviews. The consistency that hasn’t been present in the results, has been present in Liverpool’s style of play. The addition of Daniel Sturridge has vastly altered the threat his side poses. Coutinho looks like he may be the unpredictable element in a midfield that at times has been easy to read. And Suárez continues to make comforting noises about his future at the club despite speculation to the contrary. But fixtures such as the one today have often pierced any bubble of optimism that has been said to be growing around Anfield. Despite Champions League qualification looking beyond them, a Europa League spot (a competition whose level matches that of Liverpool's at present) is still very much up for grabs. The motivation should be there today, despite recent disappointments.
As for Wigan, Roberto Mártinez desperately needs a win to keep the club out of the murky stuff at the bottom of the table. They were 17th before the 3pm kick-offs (pre-cooked preamble ahoy!). The 3-0 away win at Reading is evidence of the threat they pose when they are on it. But, much like a cream egg, they are very easily exposed and have a tendency to show off their soft centre when pressed. That’s no surprise given the club’s limited resources and ethos of playing expansive, attacking football to survive rather than rolling down the shutters and hoping they don’t get prised open. Arouna Koné is just the kind of mobile and physical forward who has caused Liverpool’s defence problems this season. He may well do so today. But I expect Liverpool, with or without Daniel Sturridge who is a doubt with a thigh injury, to win narrowly.
Prediction: Wigan 1-2 Liverpool