Coming into this match, Liverpool had a nice opportunity to round up a 10-game start to the 2018/19 Premier League season, and they they did so in style by steamrolling over Cardiff City. They were sitting second to title holders Manchester City only on goal-difference. As for the visitors from Wales, goal-difference seemed important to them too as it was the only thing keeping them above the relegation zone led by Fulham.
Manager Jurgen Klopp was still unable to count on captain Jordan Henderson, as well as Naby Keita. Both were still out with hamstring injuries, but apart from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the manager had the rest of the squad at his disposal. Still, he decided to shake some things up.
Cardiff manager Neil Warnock had to make do without midfielder Joe Ralls who was suspended. Midfielder Harry Arter, striker Gary Madine and winger Josh Murphy were all minor doubts for the Anfield trip with different fitness issues, but Murphy started, Madine was on the bench, and only Arter actually missed out.
The First Half
The Reds started the game as expected, dominant on the ball and patient in their buildup while the visitors tried to play very directly, hoofing it long at any opportunity.
After a rather uneventful nine minutes, a sharp cross by Trent from the right created a mess in Cardiff’s box as first Mane and then Wijnaldum had their respective shots blocked, but Mo Salah was on hand to get his team off the mark.
Liverpool were simply ripping their visitors apart at this point. Van Dijk could’ve doubled the score within three minutes but his fine header was saved by Etheridge, before Salah wasted two more chances in quick succession.
Klopp’s men were utterly dominant in the contest. They constantly found pockets of space between the opposition lines and their movement was immaculate. Their passing seemed to be lacking some precision, and therein probably lies the clue to why the second goal kept evading them for a long time.
The visitors tried to get forward whenever they could, but they only occasionally managed to get the ball across the halfway line and were a long way away from causing any kind threat to Alisson. In the 30th minute they had a good moment when Camarasa took the ball and ran towards the box down the middle and got around Lovren, but Fabinho was there to nick the ball and sort it out.
As the halftime approached, the visitors seemed to be playing tighter at the back and it took far more skill for the Reds to try and navigate through. This resulted in several long-range attempts, first one by Lallana blocked and the second by Firmino off target.
In the last seconds before the break, a good team move enabled Moreno to find Lallana at the far post with a good cross and Lallana beat Etheridge, but his effort was cleared off the line.
The Second Half
The visitors came out with a bit more determination into the second half, especially Murphy who took on Trent a few times, but the 20-year-old won the contest. In the 52nd minute, however, Lovren gave away a free-kick in a dangerous position. The free-kick found Morrison on the far post and the ball eventually found its way past Alisson, but the linesman had raised his flag for offside. Another free-kick was swung in from the left side soon afterwards by Camarasa, but it was easily cleared.
With 57 minutes gone, Murphy got behind Trent and used his pace to get away from Fabinho, and as his cross was being cleared by Lovren, the winger stood awkwardly on his foot and went down.
Two minutes later Moreno gave a penalty shout as his cross hit the arm of Hoilett inside the box, but referee Stuart Attwell waved it rightly away. There was no way the Cardiff midfielder could have moved his arm out of the way and it would have been a very harsh penalty, had it been given.
A minute after the hour-mark, Klopp had a go at refreshing the ranks and sent in Xherdan Shaqiri for Lallana.
Four minutes later – Mane time. Firmino did well to keep the ball wide on the left inside the box and gave it to Shaqiri who involved the Senegalese. Mane danced this way and that before he set himself up for a left-footed shot, and then he drove it in past Etheridge.
Soon afterwards, Klopp shook things around a bit more by replacing Firmino with James Milner. On the other hand, Warnock tried to change something by introducing Loic Damour for Gunnarson and Kadeem Harris for Murphy.
And then, with 13 minutes remaining, lightning struck from a clear sky and Liverpool conceded at home in the Premier League for the first time since February. A cross by Hoilett was awkwardly deflected by van Dijk, taking it out of reach for Lovren and into the path of Paterson who flicked it past Alisson from very close range.
The goal certainly blew some wind into Cardiff’s sails and they started pushing their hosts back. Bobby Reid then made way for the 6’3″ striker Kenneth Zohore. Warnock’s intention was pretty clear, but it would be Klopp’s sub that had the bigger impact.
With 84 minutes on the clock, Salah came in from the right wing and employed Shaqiri who sold a dummy to his marker before placing it into the bottom corner from around 10 yards.
As Cardiff tried not to let this dampen their spirits and charge forward again, Liverpool broke through in the 87th minute and put the contest to rest. Salah again picked the ball up, this time in the middle of the park, and ran at Cardiff’s defence. At just the right moment, he slipped a pass through for the incoming Mane who chipped it over Etheridge and into the net.
With nothing to lose, Cardiff continued going forward in numbers, but the loss of purpose was clear to see. They were left open at the back too, and Salah could have scored a few more late on. They did, however, have the last shot of the game – a powerful effort from range by Hoilett that went far from the target.
It wouldn’t be fair to say Cardiff didn’t have their moments and opportunities to earn a different ending to the game. They gave a strong push in the second half and credit to them for that. At the end of the day, they just don’t have the quality necessary to compete against this Liverpool team.
On the other hand, Klopp will be happy with what his team produced. They were simply superb for a large part of the 90 minutes, and they fully deserved the three points that have now taken them to the very top of the table, at least until Monday.
Next up – Arsenal, the team who are currently on an 11-game winning streak and play Crystal Palace tomorrow (Sunday). It’s about time they faced some real opposition.
We Walk On.