Sticking to the recent trend, Liverpool's defensive effort was again commendable against a top opponent on Sunday. Say what you will about David Moyes' Manchester United being far off their standard under Alex Ferguson, but it's still a strong squad currently sat in the top ten playing at home against a rival. Together with Southampton the week before, Sunday's match was one of the two toughest away tests Liverpool had remaining.
"It was a wonderful match," a celebratory Martin Skrtel told his official website. "We played nearly perfectly, destroyed United, and deservedly won. We scored three times and we could have scored even more. We also controlled the possession so we can say that we are really satisfied to keep a clean sheet and get the very important three points. Now we have to prepare for the match against Cardiff and deliver the same kind of performance."
Sunday's victory showed once again that, when they get support from the midfields and fullbacks as so often is the case against stronger opposition, Liverpool's defenders are more than capable of turning in solid if unspectacular performances. It is often against supposedly weaker opposition, when Liverpool's fullbacks and midfielders all end up far up field and the two centre halves are left entirely isolated, that things tend to get nervy.
A 2-2 draw with Aston Villa; three goals conceded to Stoke and Swansea; two goals conceded to Fulham. Liverpool's worst defensive performances and nerviest league matches so far in 2014 have all come against sides that seemed far less daunting on paper than the likes of Everton, Arsenal, Southampton, and Manchester United. The good news is that, even when they've stumbled, they've still mostly taken all the points.
The squad also increasingly appear to have embraced a mentality that says every match from here out is a cup final—and with the league title up for grabs there will be extra motivation for a match like Cardiff that simply wouldn't be there earlier in the season. Still, there is a need for a more balanced approach than has at times been seen against weaker opponents; there is a need for the players in front of the centre halves to remain defensively vigilant.
Cardiff this week and then Sunderland next Wednesday offer up a very different challenge than the past two matches have. These are the matches Liverpool cannot take for granted lest they stumble as Chelsea did over the weekend against Aston Villa. Now is the time to prove all the talk of treating every match like a cup final, of treating every opponent like they're worthy of the effort displayed against Manchester United, isn't just talk.