Thursday, December 17, 2009 by Paul Grech
For forty-five minutes, Liverpool seemed hell-bent on repeating the trend of this season whereby after going ahead they seemed to be more than willing to let Wigan get level. Fortunately, Wigan lacked the quality, not to mention the good fortune, to do so but Liverpool's quality of play in the first half was for long stretches woeful.
Thankfully, things greatly improved in the second period where some of the confidence of old seemed to return. Fernando Torres put Liverpool further ahead and, despite N'Zogbia late goal and the crossbar that Jason Scotland had struck earlier, the reality is that this could easily have turned out to be a four or five nil win. Hopefully,it is a win that will give the players added confidence ahead of two very win-able games against Portsmouth and Wolves.
He might have messed up when coming out for the cross that eventually ended on Scotland's feet and then the crossbar (although it seemed as if he had been fouled in the process) but Pepe Reina had his usual good game where he was a commanding presence in the penalty area. Returning to the side, Martin Skrtel seemed eager to prove his worth not only defensively but also by making occasional moves forward. That,however, is the speciality of Daniel Agger and the Dane really looks a class act with the ball at his feet. Some of his passing was simply breath-taking but, perhaps more importantly, he is doing the bread and butter stuff for every defender - keeping strikers quite - exceedingly well.
Perhaps it is down to being dropped last Sunday against Arsenal but Emiliano Insua was much more solid than he has of late. Defending wise he didn't give much room to N'Zogbia and when he did move forward his crossing was spot on and never wasted. That he had someone like Fabio Aurelio ahead of him helped and, although the Brazilian didn't do much that was special, he layed up the first goal which counts for a lot.
Strangely lethargic in the first half, Steven Gerrard then came to life in the second half where, freed from a purely central midfield position, he was able to look for space and angles that could hurt Wigan. In the first half, that job had fallen to Yossi Benayoun who had done it quite well although the feeling is that he still isn't up to last season's form. That said, his intelligence and vision alone make him a must-start player for Liverpool.
Rafael Benitez seems to consider Dirk Kuyt in that category as well even though he has been visibly off form this season. On this occasion, however, he was quite better and even took the two half chances he had well only to see Chris Kirkland make fantastic saves.
For all the undoubted pleasure of seeing Fernando Torres back on the pitch, there was a sense of injustice in the substitution of David N'Gog. The young Frenchman had scored a very good goal and, overall, played a very good game where everything the touched seemed to come off. Indeed, he would have probably been my player of the game if it hadn't been for the brilliance of Javier Mascherano who won countless balls in midfield and with his constant harrying ensured that Wigan could never really capitalise on the ball-posession that they had.
It isn't his fault that he was asked to play at right-back but, tactically, having Jamie Carragher to replace Glen Johnson really messed up Liverpool's system. There were countless occasions when the midfielders looked up to give the ball into the space where Johnson usually sits only to see Carragher still within the back-line. Rumour has it that Carragher has implied that he doesn't want to be played in this position and, on this showing, it isn't difficult to see why.
The entry of Lucas to replace Fabio Aurelio was a strange one but also probably dictated by tactics and Wigan's change in formation midway through the second half. As per much of this season, he didn't do too badly and even got lively on a couple of occasions when Liverpool moved forward. There is little to say about Fernando Torres other than that he came on and scored the winning goal. He isn't considered to be a modern legend for nothing. Torres' second goal gave Benitez the liberty to give Alberto Aquilani a full ten minutes during which he once again showed some nice touches but, more impressively, the desire to get stuck into tackles.