Liverpool verdict - Jurgen Klopp's relentless Reds deliver again
James Pearce's match verdict after Liverpool hold their nerve to win 2-0 against Cardiff City and keep remarkable title race going
20:21, 21 APR 2019
Liverpool aren't going anywhere. They are taking this race right down to the wire.
The defiant, booming roar emitted by the travelling Kop moments after the final whistle in South Wales was one of pride.
Jurgen Klopp's relentless Red Machine had delivered the goods yet again. Here was another gutsy, priceless triumph for their bulging collection.
A ninth straight win in all competitions propelled them back to the top of the Premier League table.
Once again the gauntlet has been thrown down to Manchester City. The pressure is well and truly back on Pep Guardiola's men, who find themselves two points adrift with a game in hand.
All eyes will be on Old Trafford come Wednesday night. Habits of a lifetime will be cast aside as Kopites throw their support behind the club's bitter rivals.
Can a Manchester United side wounded after an embarrassing capitulation at Goodison come out swinging? If they deny City victory then the door will be open for Liverpool to charge through and end that 29-year wait for the Holy Grail.
If a favour from United isn't forthcoming then all is not lost. Hope will still exist with City then facing a tricky trip to Burnley, Leicester at home and then Brighton away on the final day.
Liverpool aren't masters of their own destiny but they have momentum firmly on their side. Not since the club's last title charge five years ago have the Reds enjoyed such a winning streak. City know that they have no margin for error.
Whatever happens over the final nerve-jangling weeks, Klopp's men can hold their heads high. They are rewriting the record books in a season where the bar is set higher than ever.
Victory over lowly Cardiff City means that Liverpool have now amassed 88 points this term – their best ever total in the Premier League era.
They have surpassed Rafa Benitez's cherished class of 2008/09 which boasted the likes of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Pepe Reina.
Swat aside Huddersfield, Newcastle and Wolves, and the current crop will finish on 97 points. That's extraordinary.
With a Champions League semi-final with Barcelona on the horizon, Ol' Big Ears could provide the perfect pick-me-up if there's title race heartache but dreams of double delight still abound.
You can only admire how this Liverpool team are handling everything that's thrown at them. They really are fearless. The stakes keep getting higher but they refuse to crack.
Goalless for the best part of an hour at the Cardiff City Stadium, there was no hint of panic.
They kept their heads, stuck to their principles and got their reward when a brilliantly worked corner routine saw Trent Alexander-Arnold tee up Gini Wijnaldum, who unleashed a thunderous finish past Neil Etheridge.
A heady mix of relief and joy engulfed the away end as the Dutchman was mobbed by his team-mates.
Substitute James Milner wrapped up the points from the penalty spot late on after Mohamed Salah had been hauled down by Sean Morrison.
Neil Warnock opted for sour grapes rather than chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday as he accused Salah of diving. It was a ridiculous accusation considering that Morrison had repeatedly manhandled him.
Klopp shuffled his pack after Liverpool's Champions League exploits against FC Porto with Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita restored to the midfield in place of Milner and Fabinho, while Roberto Firmino replaced Divock Origi up front.
Cardiff set their stall out from the off as they dropped deep, defended in numbers and challenged the Reds to break them down.
Klopp's men enjoyed 79% possession in the first half but struggled to find a way through the blue wall in front of them. Liverpool's decision making let them down at times as a succession of promising openings came to nothing.
Having puffed and huffed without looking particularly threatening, the visitors squandered a golden chance to open the scoring midway through the first half.
The impressive Joel Matip, who strode forward confidently with the ball at his feet, found Salah, whose lay-off to Mane was dinked into the path of Firmino. The Reds' No 9 really should have buried it but blazed over the bar.
Cardiff broke off the shackles and started to ask some questions of their own. Alexander-Arnold had his hands full with the pace and power of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing flying at him.
The free transfer from Rochdale was the hosts' best outlet. One surging run ended with a dangerous cross to Junior Hoilett with the Reds indebted to Andy Robertson's brave block.
Alexander-Arnold was effective going the other way and his low cross picked out Sadio Mane, who darted in front of Sean Morrison but lifted his shot over the bar.
With the tireless Wijnaldum shining in the holding role, Henderson was once again given a licence to get forward and support the three-pronged frontline. It was the captain's pass which enabled Salah to spin away from Bruno Manga but Etheridge denied him.
Having finally built up a head of steam, Liverpool were nearly caught out from a set-piece on the cusp of half-time.
Matip's clearing header from a corner was scuffed goalwards by Victor Camarasa and Oumar Niasse hooked it on with interest.
Alisson Becker reacted magnificently to turn the ball over the bar and the Reds survived. What a difference having a world class keeper has made to this Liverpool team.
That's clean sheet No 19 in the Premier League for the Brazil No 1 who looks set to clinch the Golden Glove.
In the second half the Reds grew in stature. Their fitness levels are remarkable and they had too much energy as well as quality for Cardiff.
Mane curler just over before the opener arrived just before the hour mark. The half-time analysis in the away dressing room had included talk about the space Wijnaldum was getting from set-pieces and the plan was hatched.
Alexander-Arnold provided the ammunition with assist No 10 for the season in all competitions and Wijnaldum's rocket was unstoppable.
Henderson should have quickly put the result beyond doubt but skied it from Mane's cut back.
Hearts were in mouths soon after when Morrison made a hash of a free header but referee Martin Atkinson later informed Klopp that he would have given a free-kick for a foul on Alisson anyway.
Just moments after coming on for Keita, Fabinho suffered a horrible clash of heads with Kenneth Zohore and was forced off. But his replacement Milner showcased nerves of steel with the killer second from the spot.
'Liverpool, top of the league,' boomed around the Cardiff City Stadium. The Reds are back on top. Now they need the help of an old foe to ensure they stay there.
Cardiff City: Etheridge, Peltier, Morrison, Manga, Bennett, Gunnarsson, Hoilett (Murphy 84), Camarasa, Ralls (Bacuna 79), Mendez-Laing, Niasse (Zohore 66).
Not used: Smithies, Decordova-Reid, Cunningham, Harris.
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold (Gomez 85), Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Keita (Fabinho 71 Milner 75)), Mane, Salah, Firmino.
Not used: Mignolet, Sturridge, Shaqiri, Origi.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Goals: Wijnaldum 57, Milner 81.
Man of the match: Gini Wijnaldum. Capped a fine display with the crucial opening goal.
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