WIGAN, United Kingdom (AFP) - Luis Suarez improved his tally for the Premier League season to 21 goals and helped Liverpool climb to seventh place with a hat-trick in a breezy 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic on Saturday.
Stewart Downing's headed opener put Liverpool in front inside two minutes and Suarez struck twice before half-time and then early in the second half to pull in front of Manchester United's Robin van Persie in the top scorers chart.
Liverpool now lie just five points below the European qualifying berths, although fifth-place Arsenal have a game in hand at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Wigan stay above the bottom three on goal difference alone and remain a model of inconsistency, having stormed to an impressive 3-0 success at relegation rival Reading in their previous outing last weekend.
Philippe Coutinho, a January signing from Inter Milan, was making only his second league start for Liverpool and he needed less than two minutes to make an impact at the DW Stadium.
The 20-year-old Brazilian collected a long ball from Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina and side-stepped Emmerson Boyce on the left before crossing for Downing to head home.
Liverpool doubled their advantage in the 18th minute and Coutinho was again the creator, sliding a through ball into the path of Suarez, who delayed superbly before guiding a shot inside Ali Al Habsi's near post.
Wigan's frustrations were illustrated by a flare-up between Boyce and James McArthur that prompted referee Martin Atkinson to intervene, although Boyce almost hit back with a header that drew a magnificent save from Reina.
The visitors put the result beyond doubt 11 minutes prior to half-time, as Suarez dispatched a 25-yard free-kick that flicked off Shaun Maloney and somehow crept through Al Habsi's grasp to nestle in the bottom-right corner.
Reina still had to be alert, however, and he produced another fine save before half-time to divert a header from Franco Di Santo over the bar.
Suarez claimed his third goal in the 48th minute, galloping onto Glen Johnson's pass and toeing the ball between Al Habsi's legs to complete his third Premier League hat-trick.
Reina had to save twice from Maloney, but Liverpool were so comfortable that their fans took to serenading beleaguered former manager Rafael Benitez, who continues to experience difficulties at Chelsea.