Cardiff City 0, Liverpool 2
Liverpool: Georginio Wijnaldum 56’, James Milner 81’ (PEN)
With Tottenham falling to Manchester City yesterday, the stakes will be high: all three points needed to keep pace in the title race. The squad unsurprisingly sees some rotation following the mid-week Champions League match in which the Reds booked their tickets into the semi finals against Barcelona FC. For this match, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, and Roberto Firmino all come in for James Milner, Fabinho, and Divock Origi. That midfield will be a point of interest for this scribe as it looks like Hendo will be back in the 6 for this match after looking so bright as a more progressive part of the midfield three in recent appearances.
The squad look up for it today and it gets off quickly. The crowd is loud at Cardiff City Stadium, but the Reds look eager to put in a performance that might hush them a bit. And it looks like my pre-half prediction on Hendo’s role is wrong: Georginio Wijnaldum is being tasked with the duties at the 6.
The pace feels a bit frenetic here. Cardiff are up for it, buoyed by the raucous supporters. Liverpool obviously know how important securing the three points are and it shows. Still, even with the pace, the Reds are asserting themselves and it looks clear that they are
A little after 20 minutes, Bobby digital is released on a beautiful throughball inside the penalty area but curls it just wide. Liverpool win the ball back and Sadio Mane slots through a gorgeous through pass. It was a beautiful team movement with Joel Matip, Mohamed Salah, Mané, and Firmino all involved. And, for what it’s worth, our midfield trio are really doing pretty great work right now.
Matip goes on a long excursion but, like a defender, plays a ball that probably had the lowest possibility at creating a real chance, laying off the ball to Mohamed Salah in triple coverage. The ball changes possession with the defender upfield but the team manages to squelch a break well enough. Then, shortly, the Reds break up field again on the left side. The cross comes to nothing, though. Still, the Reds are clearly turning up the pressure.
Salah has a chance as he turns his man brilliantly but sees his toe poke blocked by Neil Etheridge. Mo just couldn’t get quite the right lift as he came bearing down on the right side of the Cardiff goal.
Salah is in on goal again in nearly an identical position just a minute or so after the previous chance. And, like that one his shot is blocked on a good save by Etheridge. Once more, we’re seeing Liverpool create chances. It feels like a goal to the Reds is inevitable, but one can’t help but feel a bit of frustration as the chances continue to go begging.
Coming inside the final 15 minutes of the half, Liverpool continue to dominate possession but still haven’t found the breakthrough. A nice Trent Alexander-Arnold delivery from a corner meets Firmino’s head but it is a tame effort that falls calmly at Etheridge’s feet. Liverpool won’t be fussed at the moment, but the lack of a goal to the good really does flatter Cardiff.
And just like that Cardiff have their best moment of the half as a corner is half-cleared, falls to Oumar Niasse inside of the 6 whose half-volley is parried over the top by Alisson Becker. Wouldn’t say it always looked threatening, but that look presentedthe closest chance for Cardiff to move ahead.
The half comes to a close as Trent Alexander-Arnold hits the wall after Liverpool is awarded a free-kick on a foul drawn by Sadio Mané. Liverpool will be optimistic given they’ve generally run pace of play, but will have to be frustrated at the number of good chances created without having converted. They’ll want to come out in the second half looking to make good on their threats. Cardiff, meanwhile, will be more than content to head to the locker room with their defense having bent but not broken thus far. Though, to be fair, it looks a bit more like a misfiring Liverpool in front of goal than plucky defending.
Liverpool come out in the second half with no changes personnel-wise, but come out looking less like the rampant if wasteful side that dominated the first half. Cardiff have a couple of chances inside of the first 5 minutes of the half. They come to nothing, but Liverpool will definitely need to turn up the energy.
Looks like LFC have woken up a touch with Sadio Mané latching onto a ball following the hard work of Naby Keita. Mané curls the shot wide but it looks like the team are ready to get back to controlling the run of play. Naby in particular looks more intent on playing on the ball. I’m very exited to see Admiral Navy Keith command that pitch.
GOAL! GINI WIJNALDUM!! Liverpool had fully asserted themselves into the 10th minute of this half and were seeing more time in the Cardiff half again. After winning a corner, Gini receives a low delivery inside of the 18 and one-times it on the half-volley into the corner of the net. And now we can breathe a bit.
Maybe don’t breathe? Cardiff break on Liverpool and cause a mild scare. On the other end, the Admiral wins the ball, moves it on to Sadio, who cuts it back to Hendo who is in perfect position in the middle of the penalty area but shoots his shot too high.
Yeah, don’t breathe. Cardiff see a golden chance as Alisson whiffs on a cross from a corner but is bailed out as Sean Morrison misses a free header with about a third of the goal gaping wide in front of him. Alisson may have been held on that play but it doesn’t undo the nerves, especially considering that Martin Atkinson’s whistle stayed rather silent.
Nervy moments as Fabinho, having just been subbed in for Naby Keita to settle the game, clashes heads with Cardiff’s Kenneth Zohore. James Milner comes in for Fabinho mere minutes after Fab’s introduction. Here’s hoping Fabinho isn’t seriously injured, but he did remain on the ground a while.
PENALTY! Mohamed Salah draws a penalty on Grant Morrison as he is basically wrestled to the ground in the penalty area. Stone cold pen and Atkinson whistles for it. James Milner settles over the ball and puts it squarely into the net. Liverpool up 2!
The rest of the match plays out with minimal action, save Joe Gomez making another cameo and Salah forcing Etheridge into yet one more good save. The Cardiff keeper earned his check this week.
A bit harder in the end than one would hope - and with the unfortunate knowledge that Fabinho had to be taken off due to a head injury - but it’s still job done for the Reds. 3 points and still in the hunt for the big award. Three more matches in the league to go. It’s gonna go down to the wire, but if the lads can do their job every week, I’ll be more than happy to simply tally up the points at the end of the season. In the words of my favorite Liverpool player-cum-philosopher: Ataleggo.