The greatest football heroes do not play in great teams. Like Diego Maradona at Napoli or Steven Gerrard in the European Cup final in Istanbul, they often provide the only pathway to glory.
Or like Alan Shearer at Newcastle they are a bulwark against mediocrity.
Luis Suarez falls into the second camp. His position at Liverpool is probably not that dissimilar to what it was when he played football in the streets of Montevideo. He is the first pick and everything revolves around placing a football at his feet.
When Suarez latched on to Raheem Sterling’s pull-back and drove the ball into the roof of Ali Al-Habsi’s net, the television commentator shouted: “And where would Liverpool be without him?” Since he has scored 10 of their 17 goals and provided two assists, the answer is deep in the relegation zone.
Brendan Rodgers was anxious to stress that, despite all the statistics to the contrary, Liverpool are more than a one-man team, although he described Suarez as a “master marksman”. His opposite number, Roberto Martinez, however, preferred to focus on his darker side.
“He scored from the first mistake we made and his finish was that of a top player,” the Wigan manager said. “From then on, we opened up and created spaces and that is when he really enjoys his football. But he was very fortunate because he stamped on David Jones and it would have been a red card if the referee had seen it. That was not the sign of a top player.”
What added to Martinez’s frustration was that once more Wigan’s small squad suffered after an international break and that the loss of Ben Watson, who broke a leg in a collision with Sterling, made that squad smaller still. It was an accident but the crack as the two men collided was sickening and Martinez confirmed the worst.
Wigan had become a strange kind of bogey side to Liverpool in the same way that in their glory years, they always had problems with Leicester. Their last victory over Wigan was three years and as many managers ago. However, Rodgers pointed out that this time Liverpool took their chances.
It began with an error, which if it was Wigan’s first of the afternoon, as Martinez claimed, was instantly punished. Jean Beausejour spun around in horror after his sloppy back pass was intercepted by Sterling. The Uruguayan’s instinct did the rest. It was the fifth consecutive game in which he had scored.
That was when the game changed. Hitherto, Liverpool had performed much as they had all season, with plenty of possession but not much edge, typified by a sequence of passes that began near the Wigan area and finished with Daniel Agger passing back to his goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, returning for the first time in six weeks and greeted by a giant banner on the Kop with his picture and the slogan “No Pasaran”. Apart from a shot that struck his post, not much from Wigan did threaten to pass.
Rodgers removed another much younger Spaniard, Suso, well before half time on the grounds that “our organisation at the front end of the field was not what I wanted” but once Suarez struck, Liverpool’s confidence returned.
The mood was best displayed in a lovely ball from Jose Enrique that Suarez, running between two defenders, seized upon. Al-Habsi came out but the shot was past him almost before he could spread himself. There might have been a hat-trick to match the one at Norwich but, after wriggling through, Suarez found only the side-netting.
The third extinguished whatever resistance Wigan had left as a one-two involving Sterling and Suarez was parried by Al-Habsi’s gloves into Jose Enrique’s path. Rodgers had used the left back as a winger and pointed out that Gareth Bale had made the same transformation. Since this was Enrique’s first Premier League goal, this was perhaps a comparison too far.
Liverpool (4-3-2-1): Reina; Wisdom, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Allen, Gerrard, Jose Enrique; Sterling, Suso; Suarez. Subs: Henderson for Suso 37, Carragher for Agger 82, Shelvey for Suarez 87.
Wigan (4-4-2) Al Habsi; Ramis, Caldwell, Boyce, Figueroa; Watson, McCarthy, Maloney, Beausejour; Di Santo, Kone. Subs: Jones for Watson 32, Gomez for Caldwell 70, Miyaichi for Di Santo 70.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Man of the match: Suarez (Liverpool) Match rating: 6/10