Suarez terrorises woeful Wigan with hat-trick
Wigan 0 Liverpool 4
Brendan Rodgers invited ridicule the last time he said the words "near-perfect away performance", coming as it did in the aftermath of a 2-0 defeat at Zenit St Petersburg.
There could be no objection to a repeat at Wigan where a devastating attack display produced a hat-trick for Luis Suarez and a clean sheet for Pepe Reina. The only mockery on offer at the DW Stadium was talk of Roberto Martinez's side being equipped to ease away from relegation again.
Liverpool were dominant from start to finish as Suarez took his tally for the season to 28 in all competitions, aided and abetted by a woeful Wigan display. With 10 games to go he has 21 in the league – two clear of nearest rival Robin van Persie in the race for the Golden Boot – and his team-mates were quick to laud him.
"I can say he can do something out of nothing," said goalkeeper Pepe Reina. "He can score for himself or give assists for team-mates."
Stewart Downing, who opened the scoring in the first minute, added: "He must be a nightmare for defenders. He can be quiet but they know they have to be on their toes."
This was such a procession the travelling support found time to chant support for former manager Rafael Benitez and to show their disdain for his current employers at Stamford Bridge.
Wigan could have been ahead inside the opening minute but spent the rest of the evening ruing Arouna Kone's failure to beat Reina or set up Franco Di Santo from an Emmerson Boyce cross as Liverpool scored from their first attack. The visitors sliced through the Wigan defence far too easily, and the prospects of only a third home win of the season deflated rapidly.
Philippe Coutinho was the architect as he collected Reina's long clearance, left Boyce trailing and floated a perfect cross over Wigan's central defenders. Downing was lurking behind and planted a header past Ali Al-Habsi.
As poor as Wigan were, and they were hopeless, Liverpool deserve credit for forcing countless mistakes from their opponents through constant harrying of the home defence. As soon as Gary Caldwell or Paul Scharner took possession from Al-Habsi they had Suarez, Coutinho, Downing or Steven Gerrard for company and, with the notable exception of Di Santo, the Wigan display was littered with stray passes and loose first touches.
Their central midfield of James McCarthy and James McArthur were lost against Liverpool's three and their wide men, Shaun Maloney and Jean Beausejour, were rarely involved.
It required a desperate challenge from Maynor Figueroa to stop Gerrard latching on to Joe Allen's pass in the area but Liverpool's second was not long in coming. Again Coutinho was at the heart of the goal, this time taking Gerrard's pass, beating McArthur and threading a perfect ball between Caldwell and Boyce for Suarez to advance on goal. Liverpool's leading striker waited for Al-Habsi to commit himself, then found the near corner.
The Oman goalkeeper's 100th appearance for Wigan proved memorable for all the wrong reasons. Liverpool made the contest safe with their third when Suarez scored his second with almost an hour remaining. Fouled by Caldwell, the Uruguay international picked himself up to find the bottom corner of Al-Habsi's goal from the resulting free-kick via a deflection off Maloney's shoulder and the post.
In spite of their hapless performance Wigan did have chances to disrupt Liverpool's momentum but, in Reina, faced a goalkeeper in commanding form. He made three stunning saves before the interval to prevent Boyce hooking a volley into the top corner, Di Santo scoring with a close-range header and Beausejour converting a free-kick from 20 yards.
Suarez could have had his hat-trick in the first half but had to wait only four minutes into the second for the inevitable to arrive. Wigan restarted with urgency and were promptly picked off as Glen Johnson waltzed past three lame challenges and sent the striker through on goal. Despite Scharner diving at his heels, Suarez held his aim and nutmegged Al-Habsi.