Luis Suarez warmed up for next weekend’s FA Cup final with a hat-trick in Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Norwich City in the Premier League on Saturday, while high-flying Newcastle United were thumped 4-0 at lowly Wigan Athletic.
Third-placed Arsenal, who have taken two points out of a possible nine, drew 1-1 at Stoke City, where newly elected Footballer of the Year Robin van Persie’s 28th league goal of the season canceled out Peter Crouch’s opener for the hosts.
A glut of goals came on a cold, rainy day when the top two — Manchester United and Manchester City — were not in action because they meet in a title decider today.
Saturday’s seven matches produced 25 goals and the biggest shock came at the DW Stadium, where Wigan dented Newcastle’s dreams of a Champions League place next season and boosted their own survival hopes with an emphatic victory.
The outstanding individual performance of the day belonged to Uruguay striker Suarez, who scored a contender for goal of the season eight minutes from time when he lobbed Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy from 45m.
“He [Suarez] is one of the best in the world on his day. Today was his day and as a team we could have had two or three goals more,” Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard told ESPN television.
The goals also flowed at Goodison Park, where Nikica Jelavic struck twice to help Everton crush Fulham 4-0 and at the Liberty Stadium, where Swansea City drew 4-4 with relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Newcastle, who had won their previous six games to climb to fourth place, came crashing down to earth against Roberto Martinez’s Wigan, who continued their plucky fight for survival following recent wins over Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Wigan came flying out of the blocks with Victor Moses scoring twice in the opening 15 minutes and they were 4-0 up by halftime thanks to Shaun Maloney and Franco Di Santo.
“We have reached a good level in the last stages of the season and have produced some clinical finishing,” Martinez said. “I am sure many people will say Newcastle had a bad day, but we played really well.”
“If you don’t have the intensity that matches the other side you are in trouble,” Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said “We didn’t today and they got the early goals that changed the face of the game. They were superb and can take great credit from this victory.”
The result at Wigan threw the race for Champions League places wide open.
Manchester United and Manchester City will take the first two spots, while Arsenal look set to finish third.
Arsenal have 66 points, four clear of Newcastle, but it is no longer guaranteed that the fourth-placed team will qualify for the Champions League. If Chelsea, who are sixth, beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final next month and finish outside the top four, they will take the last qualifying spot.
Eighth-placed Liverpool have already qualified for the Europa League by winning the League Cup and they are desperate to finish above city rivals Everton, who are seventh.
Suarez did their hopes a power of good with three excellent goals at Norwich, the first two coming in a four-minute spell midway through the first half.
Aston Villa, embroiled in the relegation dogfight after one win in 14 matches, drew 0-0 at West Bromwich Albion to stay sixth from bottom on 37 points, ahead of Wigan on goal-difference.