Of the three men competing for the title of footballer of the year, Luis Suarez is the one playing for least. Liverpool's season, if not dead, has had a priest in attendance since they were beaten by Zenit St Petersburg on the frozen banks of the Neva last month.
Robin van Persie is competing for the Treble. Gareth Bale might still win a European trophy and is playing for the Champions' League. It says plenty about Suarez that he should produce displays like these when there is so little at stake.
"For me, there is no better striker in the Premier League," said his manager, Brendan Rodgers, who believes that even without Champions' League football, the Uruguayan will remain on Merseyside. "He is clearly the player of the year for myself and for many Liverpool people. Forget his quality – it is his hunger and desire that stand out.
"It is hard to say the Champions' League is not important, but Luis has a real affinity with the players. The supporters adore him and he loves the city of Liverpool. It could have been easy for him to have walked away last summer. I speak regularly with his agent and he wants to be part of our future."
Liverpool's expectations at Wigan are usually low. Rafa Benitez, whose name was chanted long and loud in the away end, was the last manager to win here and that was six years ago. Last night the match was settled by half-time. If Wigan had thought their record against Liverpool would shield them, it was a mood that was broken after just two minutes.
For Roberto Martinez, this may be the season when the escapology ends and the Wigan manager, his voice pained, remarked: "Our defensive performance in the first 20 minutes made our situation impossible."
Suarez and Philippe Coutinho had been murderously effective but Wigan's attempts to stop them were exercises in incompetence. Paul Scharner argued openly with his goalkeeper, Ali Al Habsi, while Emmerson Boyce and James McArthur engaged in a bitter-looking spat.
Coutinho had been wonderful on his Anfield debut, the 5-0 dismissal of a Swansea side that appeared entirely fixated by the upcoming League Cup final. Here he created two of Liverpool's three first-half goals, deceiving Boyce and crossing perfectly for Stewart Downing almost before the chorus of Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher" had faded away. The Brazilian continued pulling apart Wigan's defence with a beautifully measured through-ball that sent Suarez clear for the opening goal of his hat-trick.
Wigan's sloppiness could be measured by watching Scharner take an age over his free-kick and then pass straight to Glen Johnson. Suarez did rather better with his. It struck the edge of the defensive wall, slid through Al Habsi's gloves and went in off the post. Al Habsi would not have enjoyed his 100th appearance for Wigan and it became more forgettable when, three minutes after the end of Martinez's team talk, the Uruguayan sprinted through with painfully inevitable results – Suarez's third hat-trick for Liverpool and his 21st Premier League goal, two more than Van Persie.
During the interval, a new mother announced she would be naming her baby after anyone who scored for Wigan. Pepe Reina, who produced what Martinez thought the best goalkeeping performance at Wigan this season, ensured it would not be Jean (Beausejour), Emmerson (Boyce) or Franco (di Santo). She might try Luis.
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