Sadio Mané scores twice as Liverpool ease past Cardiff on way to top
Andy Hunter at Anfield
Sat 27 Oct 2018 17.07 BST
Liverpool were so dominant, their return to the Premier League summit a foregone conclusion for 80 minutes, that it amounted to a shock when Cardiff City became the first opposition side since February to score a league goal at Anfield. “If we could have just hung on for another five minutes it could have been interesting,” mused Neil Warnock. His pre-match assertion that it would be impossible for Cardiff to win at Anfield was much closer to the mark.
Fatalistic or simply realistic, the Cardiff manager was correct on the scale of the task confronting his team. Liverpool were on a different plane throughout. Even in those moments after Callum Paterson denied Liverpool a club record 10th consecutive clean sheet at home in the league, there was no genuine challenge to the hosts’ authority. Jürgen Klopp’s team simply killed Cardiff’s hope with two late goals through Xherdan Shaqiri and Sadio Mané, to add to the two delivered earlier by Mohamed Salah and the Senegal international, as they cruised through what was a contest in name only.
“I think Liverpool have more of a chance in the Champions League and the cups,” said Warnock, whose team have now played and lost to all of the top five. “I think Manchester City have more week in, week out experience in the league but Liverpool are the most improved team in the league. They are really back in the big time now and heaven help us if he [Klopp] adds a few more next year.” Liverpool look in the mood now, and between them Salah, Mané and Roberto Firmino have scored more goals after 14 games in all competitions this season than at the same stage last year: 18 to 17. They now have a defence to match. Not that it was required here.
Liverpool enjoyed 86% possession and completed 412 passes to Cardiff’s 35 in a ridiculously one-sided first half where the only topic of note was their inability to add to Salah’s opener. Given the hosts’ control and the Egypt international’s remarkable goalscoring record at Anfield it was no surprise when he pounced to give Liverpool a 10th-minute lead, although it was out of context with Cardiff’s belligerent defensive display before the break.
Salah’s 33rd goal in 35 Anfield appearances stemmed from his alertness and the visitors’ failure to deal with Trent Alexander-Arnold’s low cross from the right. The right-back’s delivery, having been teed up by Salah initially, was intercepted awkwardly by Sol Bamba who diverted the ball on to Mané. His shot on the turn was blocked by Sean Morrison, Georginio Wijnaldum’s rebound was diverted across goal by Bamba and Salah reacted quickest to score from close range, with Morrison and Bruno Ecuele Manga floundering on the line.
Anfield sat back to enjoy the procession and the captain for the day, Virgil van Dijk, almost obliged with a towering header from a Salah cross that kissed the far post. The procession took a while to materialise. True, Liverpool’s authority was almost absolute and at times it appeared Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren were passing the ball via Alisson just to keep their goalkeeper occupied. Firmino even managed to prevent a corner with a back-heel nutmeg – while lying on the ground – and the body language of Cardiff’s forward players suggested they had taken Warnock’s impossible comment to heart. At least their defenders gave the impression that this was not a training exercise.
The visitors worked themselves into promising situations either side of the interval but lacked the quality and awareness to make the final ball count. They fell further behind when Firmino and Alberto Moreno combined to release Mané inside the area and both Manga and Víctor Camarasa made lame attempts to challenge. The Senegal international punished them with a sweeping shot beyond Neil Etheridge and into the far corner.
Remarkably, and completely out of keeping with the flow of the game, the visitors ended Liverpool’s and Alisson’s proud record of clean sheets in the league at Anfield when Paterson reduced the deficit with 13 minutes remaining. Junior Hoilett’s low cross deflected into the striker’s path off Van Dijk and Paterson gave Alisson no chance by prodding the ball home from close range. It was the first time Liverpool had conceded a Premier League goal at home for 918 minutes, since Michail Antonio netted for West Ham United. There would be no comeback.
The in-form Shaqiri, rested for the anonymous Adam Lallana, injected greater urgency into Liverpool’s attack and scored a fine third late on. Fabinho released Salah down the right, he picked out Shaqiri inside the area and the substitute cut inside two defenders before stroking a calm finish inside the far post. Liverpool’s fourth was equally impressive with Salah again the provider. Collecting Mané’s pass deep inside the Cardiff half he read the striker’s mazy run to perfection and pierced the defence with a perfectly weighted ball that Mané clipped over the advancing Etheridge.
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