When Stewart Downing, the second most overpriced player in history and a player ridiculed for his lack of goalscoring ability, takes all of two minutes to find the net, you know you’ve got a few issues. Although Liverpool hadn’t won at Wigan since Chris Hutchings was the Wigan manager, they emphatically quelled that sequence to inflict a damaging blow to Wigan’s survival bid.
As Liverpool’s top four credentials have faded in recent seasons, our record against them has improved. Particularly at home, Liverpool have been stumped by the likes of Charles N’Zogbia and Hugo Rodallega; whilst Anfield has been stunned by unlikely goalscorers Gary Caldwell, Titus Bramble and Steve Gohouri. Equally as surprising was the opening goalscorer on Saturday: Stewart Downing.
Although he’s probably underrated by the media due to the unrealistic expectations of his £20 million move from Aston Villa, I couldn’t help but feel gutted that Stewart Downing scored after two minutes in a home game, I would be regardless of the opposition scorer. For a player who’s scored a measly one previous league goal in a season and a half to score against us so easily, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed. As much as I’d hate to admit it to their often deluded supporters, Liverpool outclassed us in all departments on Saturday.
This could have been the fixture that marked Roberto Martinez’s return to Wigan as the opposition manager, had things turned out differently in the summer. Clearly, he would have loved to have shown the Anfield faithful and owners what they missed out on, but even he appeared to be second best as Rodgers seemed to outwit him in the tactical battle.
Clearly, Rodgers has taken time to scout previous Wigan matches and it doesn’t take a genius to notice that we try and play it out from the back. I’m all for this but a couple of simple tactical adjustments can stunt its effectiveness. Liverpool simply pressed Wigan’s defence very high up the pitch, as soon as Al-Habsi received the ball, Coutinho, Gerrard, Downing and Suarez swarmed around the Wigan defence which often looked uncomfortable in possession. I saw West Brom successfuly do a similar job to prevent attacks being started, and Liverpool did the same.
Secondly, in a tactical philosophy that places such emphasis on possession, I’m surprised Martinez is persisting with two central midfield players. Several teams, particularly away from home, put three players in the middle who outnumber McCarthy and McArthur and force them to lose possession often. When they do lose it, it’s not easy to win it back quickly either. It seemed that Rodgers beat Martinez in this area of the pitch too, Wigan have conceded the midfield battle too often this season and felt the consequences.
Indeed, Shaun Maloney’s presence ahead of the Macs in the central area has helped this season, and I think it’s pivotal he plays in that position from here on in. He’s our most dangerous technical player and needs to be in the centre of the pitch to affect the game. Much like Gareth Bale, he’s wasted in wide positions when he can be squeezed out of the game by defenders until the point where he becomes relatively harmless. Despite the negatives though, it must be noted that Wigan did create some chances of their own, but Pepe Reina was in fine form to deny any shots at goal, Ali Al-Habsi wasn’t so lucky.
Although it was no fault of their own, Wigan were also unfortunate to encounter a bang in form Luis Suarez, who has now scored five goals against Wigan this season and 21 league goals in all, overtaking Robin Van Persie as the Premier League top scorer in the process. No he’s seemingly adopting a low media profile by not racially abusing/stamping on any opponents or blatantly diving so often recently, his game seems to have benefited greatly. He’s decimated our defence on two separate occasions this season and has caused us more problems than any other opposition player. We’ve sometimes had a single player who’s terrorized us at home and away from home in one season; Henry did it in 2006, Berbatov in 2007 and Jermaine Defoe in 2010; Suarez has done the same this season.
Whether he’s the player of the year is a different matter, and one that doesn’t really concern Wigan at the moment. One that does though is the woeful defending that contributed to the ease of his masterclass.
Martinez reverted to a back four for this encounter and you could argue it backfired. Although, I’m not sure the formation itself can explain the weak challenges and poor positional play which allowed Liverpool to race to a three goal first half lead.
Indeed, such was the frustration present in the Wigan camp, Emmerson Boyce and James McArthur angrily confronted each other in an altercation which could easily have been blown out of proportion, it wasn’t exactly Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer all over again. Martinez actually praised the attitude of the players, saying he was delighted at the passion they were showing, which makes sense as long as it doesn’t cause a rift within the camp. Alan Hansen however was less supportive, suggesting the incident was embarrassing and that the Wigan squad must be together in this scenario. As a Wigan fan, I wasn’t embarrassed by the situation at all and agreed with Martinez’s opinion that such passion previously would have led to us being more competitive in the first 20 games.
Precisely what we need is passion in this scenario, would it have been better if the players had lay down and accepted defeat, Alan Hansen? Although I do agree that the anger should be channelled towards the opposition, rather than teammates. Interestingly, neither player has taken to Twitter to clear up the altercation, which is surprising considering how much they usually interact on the social networking site.
Regardless of your take on the Boyce and McArthur issue, it can’t be ignored that the performance against Liverpool was woefully below par and performances must drastically improve, especially at home, to earn the points needed to stay up. Just like last week’s swallow didn’t make a summer, this week’s shower doesn’t make a monsoon either.