Liverpool 3: Suarez 47', 58'; Enrique 66'
There's been a growing demand for Suso to start centrally, particularly after glowing substitute performances have seen him have a significant impact on Liverpool moving forward. We finally got that today, with the 18 year-old starting in a more advanced position behind Luis Suarez, with Jose Enrique pushing up to the left side of midfield, Sterling on the opposite flank, and Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen deeper in central midfield. Andre Wisdom and Glen Johnson took up familiar roles at right- and left-back respectively, with Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel in the middle and Pepe Reina back after missing over a month with a hamstring injury.
It settled into a 4-2-3-1 as the match got going, and as they're wont to do, the hosts piled on the pressure while conceding very little possession to their guests. Enrique looked strong and less bothered higher up the pitch, and Suso's presence in the middle provided a creative link to route possession through. Luis Suarez created the best chance of the early going, with a cutback from the left nearly resulted in an own goal, and the resulting corner headed just wide by Agger.
Wigan settled into a spell of possession around the ten minute mark that ultimately led to nothing, but it was never really back to normal service for Brendan Rodgers' side. Wigan continued to carry possession and got forward well, with Liverpool creating a brief flurry of half chances were sandwiched around a firm strike by Suso from just outside the area that Al Habsi parried away well. A missed header would follow for the young Spaniard, which would prove to be his last meaningful involvement.
Jordan Henderson came on just after the half-hour mark and brought with him a change in shape, as both he did most of the running behind Steven Gerrard, who pushed forward in support of attack. That didn't necessarily change anything in front of goal, however, as Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling both struggled to get involved, with only a cross/shot by Suarez causing any problems for Al-Habsi.
The second half had barely started before Liverpool took the lead, and after how solid they'd been in the first half, it was surprising that it came from a Wigan error. Pressure led to a poorly-chosen backpass, springing Raheem Sterling into space on the right wing. The cut-back to Suarez in the center initially looked to be off, but the Uruguayan adjusted himself well and slashed an unstoppable shot in for the opener.
Liverpool pushed on from there, looking doubly confident and in control, pressing further and further in search of the second. Wigan never looked like drawing level, and before they could put much together Suarez had his second, this time the beneficiary of a wonderful run and through ball from Jose Enrique. Suarez was able to latch on in stride and flick it into the side netting for his second, giving Liverpool a two-goal cushion for just the second time in league this season.
Aside from a moment or two of danger in Liverpool's area the hosts were comfortable, and Enrique's first-ever Premier League goal capped off the day's scoring. Sterling again had possession on the right, this time opting for a shot that Al-Habsi could only block. The left-back cum winger beat his man to the ball and knocked it into the empty net, putting the match to rest and getting a deserved reward for one of his best displays in a red shirt.
It'd be hard to overstate just how much better Liverpool were in the final 45 minutes, with Rodgers' halftime decision-making again proving effective and Wigan wilting badly under the increased pressure. Accounting for goals, sharpness, and level of effectiveness, it was Liverpool's best half of the season, and one that will hopefully provide a springboard for the run-in to the new year.
Jose Enrique and Jordan Henderson were the standouts, even on a day that saw Luis Suarez boost his league-leading goal tally to 10. The former was magnificent in a more advanced role of the left side of the midfield; he showed none of the faulty decision-making and inability to maintain possession, instead linking well with Glen Johnson (who was excellent again, as per usual) and proving to have a terrific sense for his new role. The latter showed no signs of the insecurity that marred his last run-out, instead putting nearly all of his strengths on display for the hour or so he was on the pitch. Tireless running, smart distribution, and, maybe most importantly, giving Joe Allen a much-needed respite.
The aforementioned Suarez was unsurprisingly much better when aided by the side's increased pressure, and he took both of his goals very well. Worth noting that he was responsible for creating either, and the provider for his first also looked much better after the break. As noted, Allen was boosted by Henderson's presence, as was Steven Gerrard, and the back line was very solid in front of Pepe Reina, who earned just his second clean sheet of the season.
After a half of football like that, it's tough to temper optimism, both around the personnel involved and the man in charge of making the decisions. Initially we were all quizzical, as Suso had been one of the brighter spots in the first half and the timing seemed strange. It worked a treat, though, and disappointment gave way to joy as Liverpool gradually turned the match over. Talk of inflexibility around Brendan Rodgers is well and truly dead--changes against Everton and Chelsea spared draws, but today's changes turned one point into three.
Winter is coming for Liverpool, and it's littered with crucial matches. Today was the first, another one follows in Europe on Thursday, and the trip to the Liberty Stadium could see the Reds leapfrog Swansea and continue their climb up the table. The dithering first half was concerning, but the ability to adjust proved crucial and reaped massive rewards. One at a time, and on the basis of the way this one ended, that's more a message of excitement than it caution.