Mission accomplished for Rafael Benitez, who wanted Liverpool to confirm their place in next season's Champions League before turning to the business of Wednesday's semi-final first leg against Chelsea in this year's competition but, for Wigan, two Dirk Kuyt goals plunged them, perilously, closer to the bottom three on a day when everybody beneath them collected points.
While Paul Jewell must now lift his team for next weekend's crucial encounter with fellow strugglers West Ham, Benitez will be plotting a visit to Stamford Bridge having negotiated this fixture with textbook precision. Key players rested, fringe players impressive, a top-four finish guaranteed. If ever there was a day to ask Benitez for a horse racing tip, this was it, so perfectly did everything fall into place for the manager and his team.
'It was important, with three games to go, to be qualified for the Champions League,' said Benitez. 'The last three years we were playing in the Champions League, or at least, the qualifying round, so it's very positive for the club. We were looking for a good game, a good result and we wanted to rest some players and didn't want injuries. So it was almost perfect.
'It wasn't too hard a game but we had to keep going, keep moving, keep passing the ball and be patient. When we scored the first and, especially, the second, we had more space and could run between defenders to create chances. But the best news was we had no injuries.'
Kuyt was the key performer on an afternoon when, for the opening 29 minutes at least, Wigan defended doggedly and gave a brief hint that they might be resilient enough to hold out for a point.
That hope was shattered when they failed to deal with Xabi Alonso's driven right-wing cross and Jermaine Pennant gathered the ball on the opposite flank before delivering a perfect centre which Kuyt, having gained a step on marker Matt Jackson, headed superbly into the Wigan goal as keeper John Filan dithered.
Jewell tinkered with his line-up and approach but any potential for drama was removed in the 68th minute when Mark Gonzalez's long ball into the penalty area allowed Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise to link neatly and create an opening for the alert Kuyt - who celebrated the arrival of son Roan this week - to curl an unerringly accurate shot beyond Filan's dive and into the corner of the net.
Jose Reina made his first save of the game, a fine one from substitute Caleb Folan's close-range header, in the 79th minute but the fact that Kuyt, twice, substitute Steven Gerrard and Gonzalez all came close in the final 10 minutes summed up the chasm in class between the teams.
Jewell was honest enough to concede that, by the game's end, he was playing for the 2-0 defeat, so as not to see his goal difference suffer terminal harm but, without a victory in seven Premiership games now, Wigan will need a dramatic upturn in form and fortunes for the visit of West Ham. 'We had a couple of chances but, let's not kid ourselves, Liverpool were in control of the game from start to finish and strolled through the game,' said Jewell.
'We'd like to win next week but it's not a must-win game for us. It's vital for both sides and it sets it up very nicely. Sixteen times we have played the top four and we haven't got a result. They're all in the same league as us but they're not really in our league! West Ham seem to beat the top teams but their record against teams below is not too good. Hopefully, that will continue next week.'
Man of the match
This was a fairly low-key contest, but the Dutchman was the pick of a Liverpool crop rarely required or inclined to shift out of second gear. His two finishes were textbook, a cross almost created a goal for Mark Gonzalez and his all-round play was far too good for Wigan to handle.
30' Kuyt 1-0
68' Kuyt 2-0
74' De Zeeuw
Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Jamie Carragher (Daniel Agger), Sami Hyypia, Xabi Alonso, Mark Gonzalez, Jermaine Pennant, John Arne Riise, Boudewijn Zenden (Steven Gerrard), Peter Crouch (Craig Bellamy), Dirk Kuyt
John Filan, Leighton Baines, Emmerson Boyce, Arjan De Zeeuw, Matt Jackson, Paul Scharner, Ryan Taylor (Henri Camara), Kevin Kilbane, Denny Landzaat (Julius Aghahowa), Josip Skoko, Emile Heskey (Caleb Folan)
Referee: Riley, M
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