Liverpool 3-2 Wigan Athletic (18th October 2008), Anfield
Prior to this clash against Steve Bruce’s side at Anfield in October 2008, the Reds were sitting pretty with 17 points after seven games, only behind Chelsea on goal difference at the summit of the Premier League.
This was Liverpool’s strongest start to a league campaign and there were early whispers that we could be mounting a serious title challenge. This Liverpool side had a tendency to grind out ugly wins in games, and this Saturday afternoon encounter against Wigan would prove to be no different.
With national team duties taking its toll on first-team regulars Fabio Aurelio, Martin Skrtel and Ryan Babel as well as Javier Mascherano returning late from a World Cup qualifier, Rafael Benitez was left with a selection dilemma.
However, Wigan were not without injury problems of their own. The absence of former red Emile Heskey due to an injury picked up during England duty meant Bruce opted for a three-man midfield, with Olivier Kapo and Daniel de Ridder on the flanks to support the Egyptian Amr Zaki up front.
Bruce’s side were a well-oiled machine, truly dominant for a large period of the game and the Latics’ organisation would pay off when Daniel Agger failed to control Pepe Reina’s goal-kick, allowing Zaki to dispossess him then calmly sidefoot the ball into the net.
The Dane would go on to redeem himself just eight minutes later with a charging run from his own half, drifting past Lee Cattermole then squaring the ball to the unmarked Dirk Kuyt. The Dutchman’s effort was a shot that favoured power over precision, flying at another former Liverpool man in Chris Kirkland but with enough power to break through into the net.
Liverpool were not level for long however as on the stroke of half-time, current Manchester United man Antonio Valencia crossed the ball over an unsuspecting Alvaro Arbeloa into the path of Zaki who, all credit to him, finished with an outstanding volley across Reina’s goal.
It would be safe to assume Rafael Benitez had some strong words for his side at half-time as Wigan looked full value for their lead. The second half would not start much better as the home fans grew frustrated by the multitude of long range efforts missing the target.
A stroke of luck fell in Liverpool’s favour when Antonio Valencia was dismissed for two contentious yellow cards. Rafa saw this as an opportunity to pounce, replacing full-backs Arbeloa and Andrea Dossena with attackers Yossi Benayoun and Nabil El Zhar (how’s that for a throwback!)
The substitution would pay dividends when the Moroccan El Zhar clipped the ball back to debutant Albert Riera who struck the equaliser. At this point, everyone in the ground could sense that a late Liverpool win was inevitable and it eventually came in the 85th minute when Dirk Kuyt hit an overhead shot past Kirkland to keep the Reds breathing down the necks of leaders Chelsea before the two sides faced off at Stamford Bridge the following Sunday.
Spoiler alert: The Reds would emerge victorious at the Bridge thanks to Xabi Alonso’s 10th minute deflected strike, breaking Chelsea’s seemingly never-ending unbeaten home run. A deserved 1-0 win.