Kuyt brace saves Red face

Brave would be the man who mentions it to Sir Alex Ferguson, but the talk in the Chelsea dressing room these days is that Manchester United may no longer be the team to beat to the title; Rafa Benítez has got the Blues thinking.

Joint top of the table this morning, this is Liverpool's strongest start to a Premier League campaign. Unbeaten in 15 league games, an incomparable home record in 2008 and come-from-behind victories being registered with ominous regularity. Next Sunday they will be in Stamford Bridge's other changing room, preparing to play on those Blue anxieties.

Liverpool keep winning when they should be dropping points - yesterday being a prime example. For 75 minutes, a fine Wigan Athletic side, gloriously spearheaded by the double-goal scoring Amr Zaki, appeared set on a famous win. Then they lost Antonio Valencia to an arguable pair of yellow cards and opened the door to the hosts. Benítez threw on attackers, Alberto Riera and Dirk Kuyt found the goal, and Liverpool restored morale.

It had been one of those weeks in which Liverpool raged against injustice. The supporters complained that a stadium ban intended to punish Atletico Madrid would cause them more pain than their midweek Champions League opponents. Sensibly, Uefa listened and lifted the ban. Benítez moaned that national coaches weren't taking sufficient care of his star men.

Fábio Aurélio and Martin Skrtel had been taken out on club duty, Javier Mascherano returned late enough from his World Cup qualifier to be excluded entirely, and Ryan Babel had damaged an ankle with the Dutch.

Steve Bruce also had to cope with international-inflicted damage to Emile Heskey, and in the striker's absence, adopted a Chelsea-like formation - three men in the centre of midfield, Olivier Kapo and Daniel de Ridder regularly drifting off the wings to support Zaki.

Their organisation and confidence had not been lost. Wigan claimed possession and territory as they worked on the anxieties of Anfield and its makeshift defence. Sixty seconds after Robbie Keane had sent a free shot across the face of Wigan's goal, Reina rolled a ball out to Agger. The centre back's first touch was heavy, inviting Zaki to press. His second was foolhardy, allowing the Egyptian to take it off him then sidefoot past his goalkeeper. Agger had the temerity to turn to Reina with arms outstretched as if the fault was his.

Fortunate then, that Dane found quick redemption. Carrying the ball more coherently from his own half, Agger worked a one-two with Riera, finessed his way past Lee Catermole then squared to Kuyt. Though the striker's shot flew straight at Chris Kirkland, it proved powerful enough to break through to net.

If all seemed well with Liverpool's world, it was not. Wigan stuck to their passing game, and Valencia patiently held possession on the right wing until he felt the cross was on. Dropping off a sleepy Alvaro Arbeloa, Zaki's timing was still better, ending with an impeccable over-the-shoulder volley across Reina.

The 25-year-old jogged the length of the stadium to the Egyptian flag-brandishing Wigan fans. Reputation mushrooming, Wigan would do well to exercise the £6m option on Zaki's loan deal before a wealthier club gazumps them.

Long-range shots failing to find goal, Benítez exchanged both full backs for additional wingers, creating a five-man attack. More pertinent aid came from the pair of yellow cards Alan Wiley showed Valencia for encroaching at a free kick and a reckless midfield tackle.

One substitute wideman, Nabil El Zahr, clipped the ball back to Riera and the Spaniard found the equaliser. An unlikely Liverpool win now looked inevitable, and it came when Kirkland could not stop Kuyt's overhead shot. Unjust, but justice doesn't win League titles.

Anfield 43,868

Referee Alan Wiley

Final score Liverpool 3 – 2
(HT 1 – 2)
Wigan Athletic
Kuyt 37
Riera 80
Kuyt 85
Zaki 29
Zaki 45

Bookings Dossena 39
Valencia 71

Sent off Valencia 75

Liverpool's Percentage Wigan Athletic's Percentage
Corners 5 71% 2 29%
Goal attempts 18 72% 7 28%
On target 7 63% 4 37%
Fouls 10 43% 13 57%
Offside 4 80%

Liverpool: Reina; Arbeloa (Benayoun 79), Agger, Carragher, Dossena (El Zahr 78); Alonso; Pennant, Gerrard, Riera; Kuyt, Keane (Hyppia 90)

Subs not used Cavalieri, Lucas, Insua, N'Gog

Wigan: Kirkland; Melchiot, Scharner, Bramble, Figueroa; Catermole, De Ridder (Kilbane 79), Valencia, Palacios (Koumas 90), Kapo (Brown 82); Zaki

Subs not used Pollitt, Boyce, Taylor, Camara

Copyright - The Guardian

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