Enrique rewards Rodgers' waiting game
There must have been times this autumn when the Anfield board wondered "what if". As Liverpool huffed and puffed, directors would hardly have been human had they not questioned their appointment of Brendan Rodgers as manager rather than Roberto Martinez last summer.
With Martinez's Wigan in town and the Merseysiders stuck in mid-table, this represented a potentially awkward afternoon for Rodgers, but it ended in a triumph that smacked of a vindication.
Perhaps equally importantly, a win that emphasised Luis Suarez's enduring indispensability to Liverpool also marked Jose Enrique's dramatically impressive reincarnation as an attacking midfielder. While both Suarez (twice) and Enrique finished on the scoresheet, the converted Spanish left-back also created one goal and several chances.
"Joses's a terrific talent. I think he can really play that role," Rodgers said.
"Luis took his goals very well, he's a master marksman and his movement was outstanding, but today was about the team.
"The pressure we built up was very strong and we were much more educated on the ball. I'm delighted and thrilled for the players, they give me so much every day," he added.
Stewart Downing's regression has offered scope for experimentation wide on the left and Enrique gleefully reinvented himself on that wing here.
Even so, he and Liverpool started slowly, taking time to work out Martinez's 3-4-1-2 formation. Ben Watson – badly missed after being carried off with a broken leg – very nearly turned a Suarez shot into his own net and Ali al-Habsi performed wonders to repel Suso's ferocious shot.
Watson was caught just above the shin by Raheem Sterling's knee as they jumped for a ball in the first half.
"He has a fracture and we are going to assess him now because maybe he will require surgery," said the Spaniard. "If he needs surgery he will probably be out for four months and that will be a major blow for us."
If Wigan were not exactly bombarding the returning Jose Reina's area, they enjoyed plentiful midfield possession; a situation Liverpool's manager rectified by replacing Suso with Jordan Henderson.
While Steven Gerrard remained in a holding role alongside Joe Allen, the England captain was able to interchange positions with Henderson, enjoying increased attacking scope.
As the interval approached, a clever Gerrard pass and a lovely left-foot cross from Enrique wrong-footed the Wigan defence. Finally freed, Suarez shot only for Habsi to save superbly again.
Rodgers is big on patience, ultimately reaping rewards and, sure enough, the second half heralded a new Liverpudlian dawn. After intercepting Jean Beausejour's weak pass – the visitors' first real mistake – Sterling surged forward, rounding Maynor Figueroa, before picking out Suarez who, expertly lashed the ball high into the net.
It soon got worse for Wigan. Enrique played Suarez in and the Uruguayan slid the ball low past Habsi. So much for theories that Suarez is not that hot a finisher – that was his 13th goal of the season. Martinez could not resist claiming that the Kop's darling was arguably fortunate to still have been on the pitch following a perceived stamp on David Jones, apparently unseen by the referee.
Dull and tentative before the break, Liverpool had morphed into an exhilarating ensemble and when Habsi could only parry Sterling's cross-shot, Enrique tapped home his first goal for the club. By now the Spaniard was irrepressible and he would surely have created another goal had a sitter not fallen to Henderson's weaker left foot.
No matter; Enrique's career and Liverpool's season may just have been transformed. Providing Suarez stays fit and avoids a January poaching, of course.
Sunday Indo Sport