By Sam Wallace, Chief Football Writer, match report at Anfield
27 October 2018 • 4:55pm
Eventually the goals came for Jurgen Klopp’s team and by the end they were cutting loose like a team that has won eight in an undefeated league season so far which puts them, for now at least, back at the top of the Premier League – although it was not always that way.
They had blitzed Cardiff early on with a goal from Mohamed Salah within ten minutes, the possession count needle staying above 80 per cent for much of the match, a dominance exemplified by a first half in which there were 412 Liverpool passes to Cardiff’s 35. If anything Neil Warnock’s gloomy pre-match predictions looked a little on the optimistic side until a Cardiff goal that was the first scored by an away team in the league at Anfield going back ten games to Feb 24.
The expectation is that Liverpool demolish teams like Cardff – even Warnock said so before the game - and for a while on this afternoon, the home team struggled with that expectation. There were two goals from Sadio Mane and two assists from Salah to go with his goal, and yet for both their contributions it was tempting to go with substitute Xherdan Shaqiri, scorer of the third, as the game’s outstanding player.
The Swiss maestro only come on after 61 minutes, his considerable chest puffed out and full of determination to make up for lost time. After a week of singing Shaqiri’s praises, Klopp had dropped the player in favour of trying to get a tune out of Adam Lallana. The Englishman did his best but come the hour, with Liverpool flat and the game still technically in the balance, it was Lallana, lacking the necessary sharpness, who was the obvious candidate to come off.
Shaqiri offered a vision in midfield that Liverpool had been lacking up to that point, although Fabinho had been very solid. The substitute’s goal was well-taken too and he has made a strong case to start against Arsenal next Saturday. By the end, Cardiff had lost all their shape and resistance and the scoreline reflected the possession Liverpool had enjoyed, if not the earlier determination of their visitors.
Klopp said that Liverpool’s staff were still learning about Shaqiri’s physical limits and that he had played more full games in recent days than since joining the club, including for his country against Belgium. “We don’t know Shaq long enough to know how he reacts and we have to protect him until we know him better. It was good to start Adam and he worked very hard in the first half.”
Klopp’s team are back on top of the Premier League, undefeated in ten games, and it still feels as if the real battle between the leading clubs has not yet begun. Did it matter to be top now? “Not really,” Klopp said. “The number of points makes the difference. Because the difference between 23 and 26 feels like 20 points, pretty much. It’s really important to stay on track. We [leading teams] will all meet each other, it’s unbelievable that five or six clubs have such a big number of points but it only makes it even more intense.”
The first Anfield away goal in ten league games stopped Liverpool setting what would have been a club record for consecutive clean sheets in the league. When Callum Paterson diverted in Junior Hoilett’s cross he scored the first goal at Anfield by an opposition player in the league since Michail Antonio got one for West Ham in a 4-1 home win on Feb 24.
“Eerie” was how Warnock described the quiet in Anfield in the minutes that followed, although it did not last long. He had told his Cardiff players at half-time that if they get the next one “it could get interesting”, but it was Mane who did that before Paterson scored. Warnock had not risked the injured Harry Arter and he felt it was right to take off Aron Gunnarsson in the closing stages to keep the midfielder fresh for next Saturday’s home game against Leicester City.
It threatened to be a swift and brutal conclusion to the game as a contest in those early minutes and Salah’s goal felt like it would be the first of many. His had been the third attempt on the Cardiff goal in the space of a few seconds as the home team blocked, headed and resisted until the ball dropped to the Egyptian’s left foot.
Cardiff defended deep and there was little or no pressure on the ball when their opposition had it, which was most of the time. But the chances were few and only when Sean Morrison headed Lallana’s effort off the line in time added on at the end of the first half did Liverpool go close again.
On the touchline Klopp tried to insist on a quicker tempo and more intensity about his team’s attacking but it was difficult when they were virtually unchallenged to the edge of the Cardiff area. “We had to create and create and create, and that is really hard work,” Klopp said. “It’s so difficult. We could have done better in a few moments, but I’m not sure because of the Wednesday game [against Red Star]. For your most creative football you need fresh legs and fresh players.”
There were some good performances from the likes of Morrison and midfielder Victor Camarasa, on loan from Real Betis and it seems Cardiff will have to do this for the rest of the season. Mane scored his first on 66 minutes, inexplicably allowed to twist and turn his way into a shooting position, and firing with his left foot. Virgil Van Dijk deflected the cross for Paterson’s goal – a move which was started by Bobby Reid, who had a good game.
In the space of six minutes came the final two for Liverpool, Shaqiri making space from Salah’s pass to shoot into the corner for the first. Then Mane ran onto Salah’s through ball to score. They had finished the game with 80 per cent possession and at last the scoreline looked more realistic.
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