By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome 17th place Cardiff City to Anfield on Saturday as they hope to continue their unbeaten record in the league as well as gain an advantage on two other rivals playing each other.
With Manchester City travelling to Wembley for a tricky test against Tottenham Hotspur. This gives the perfect opportunity for the Reds’ to put pressure on both clubs if they are triumphant on Saturday.
Gaining three points would put us three ahead of our title rivals and five ahead of 5th place Spurs before their showdown on Monday evening.
Victory for Spurs would be the best result which would give Liverpool breathing space over their title rivals.
Cardiff achieved their first three points of the season beating a poor Fulham side 4-2 which lifted them out of the relegation zone, but only on goal difference.
Being the bookies favourites to go down and with Liverpool seemingly clicking after a 4-0 win on Wednesday, this match appears to only have one outcome.
Liverpool have continued their excellent defensive form since coming back from the International break keeping two clean sheets on the bounce, bringing it to a total of seven for the season.
Still unbeaten in the league and with their hardest run of fixtures done and dusted, now is the time for Liverpool to really push on and start increasing their goal difference which could be vitally important come May.
With the front three all scoring on Wednesday, the first time since the Champions League semi-finals. Both Fabinho and Shaqiri made impressive performances, Liverpool look to be clicking at the right time before we face against sides that we can gain three points by sizable margins.
As mentioned, Neil Warnock’s side have only won once in the league this season, coming last weekend against last season promotion play-off victors Fulham. The Welsh capital-based side have only scored eight in the league, four of which came against the London club.
With the club having no real goal-scoring threat, their top scorer is Josh Murphy with two. The club will probably be back in the Championship next season.
They are the league’s second-worst defence in the league letting in 19 so far. Quite a surprise given they have Sol Bamba, who Neil Warnock said was better “defensive wise” then than Van Dijk days after his 75m move to Liverpool last December.
They have faced all the top five apart from Liverpool conceding 13 times. Scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem on Saturday for the Reds.
With Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita still out of action and Adam Lallana still closing in on full fitness. Jurgen Klopp has only four midfield options for Saturday. Jurgen Klopp has a dilemma whether to play the same team as on Wednesday or bring James Milner into the Starting XI.
With the back four and Alisson keeping a 2nd clean sheet on the bounce and with it being a largely comfortable night, all five should start again on Saturday as they look to continue their remarkable defensive form.
Despite his slow start to the match against Red Star, Fabinho left Liverpool fans drooling over his performance, The Brazilian won more duels (18) in 90 minutes than any other Liverpool player has for the season.
His passing was crisp and positive while making a few bursting runs with the ball creating a counter attack. Gini Wijnaldum- who had another stellar game sat next to the no.3 as Jurgen Klopp deployed with 2 deep lying midfielders. Both should start in the same positions which means we will continue to see a 4-2-3-1 formation.
That leave the four places up front, it picks itself really. Shaqiri gained his fourth assist of the season, three of which have been to Salah, looks to be a real bargain at only £13m. The Swiss was excellent defensively, winning the ball back high up the pitch which eventually led to our first goal.
Bobby Firmino started as a no.10 midweek and had his best performance of the season and should remain in that role at the weekend.
Cardiff have lined-up with two very similar line-ups in their losses against the rest of the top five, deploying two banks of four with two up front, either next to each other or one behind the striker.
Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has been Cardiff’s best player of the season, helping them keep clean sheets against Newcastle and Huddersfield whilst keeping their goal difference getting out of hand vs Tottenham and Arsenal. If (probably when) Cardiff do eventually go down, the Filipino should have no trouble finding himself a club in the top division.
Sean Morrison should be partnered by the best defender in the league Sol Bamba with Bennett and Bruno Ecuele Manga providing width on the flanks.
A midfield four of Josh Murphy, Arter, Gunnarsson and Camarasa should sit quite deep limiting the space for the likes of Firmino and Shaqiri to thrive. Wide-men Murphy and Camarasa wont probably get forward as much as they’d like but both could cause problems if they do venture past the half way line.
Bobby Reid who scored 19 In 46 for Bristol City in the championship should support Danny Ward who usually starts as a lone striker.
Double-pivot midfield – Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho were sensational at Anfield on Wednesday, both players while similar in stature compliment each other so well. When one went forward the other stayed back, with both players having the stamina and speed to cover their teammate and being strong enough to hold off the opposition trying to gain possession.
What’s more positive is the double-pivot allows Xherdan Shaqiri the ability to roam around the pitch and influence the game. I mentioned Shaqiri’s lack of discipline to play in midfield and contributing defensively. With both Fabinho and Wijnaldum sitting alongside each other, Shaqiri doesn’t have to worry about his defensive duties as much.
The Dutchman in midfield has been our best midfielder this season, and by a country mile. Newly added competition has made the no.5 up his game and he has been flawless since the opening game of the season. Put a ball-winning general next to him and with our strong defence. Liverpool will almost be impenetrable this season.
The new ‘Fab Four’ vs the Cardiff defence – Since the start of the season Liverpool have sorely missed a midfielder who could supply the front three as well as score a couple himself.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin did an exemplary job occupying this role when Phillipe Coutinho left for pastures new. Since the Englishman’s horrific injury which is expected to keep him out until the summer of 2019 at the earliest.
Jurgen Klopp tried to fill this void by signing Nabil Fekir, but due to circumstances still not yet fully known, the deal fell through. With Stoke City being relegated Xherdan Shaqiri had a measly 13m release clause which Liverpool met.
Often occupying the right-hand side for the relegated club, many thought the 27-year-old was brought in as back-up. However, Shaqiri has often found himself playing alongside the front three and with great effect, forming a budding relationship with Mo Salah already. Being a direct runner as well as having an eye for pass and with a possible new formation, Shaqiri could be key to filling this void, until January that is.
Cardiff will want to sit deep and gain a point, like many other bottom half teams this season, all front four will need to interchange with each other drag players out of position and create space if we want this game to go the way it should.
Last five meetings
Division 2 19/12/1959 Liverpool 0-4 Cardiff City
League Cup 31/10/2007 Liverpool 2-1 Cardiff City
League Cup 26/02/2012 Cardiff City 2-2 Liverpool
Premier League 21/12/2013 Liverpool 3-1 Cardiff City
Premier League 22/03/2014 Cardiff City 3-6 Liverpool
Similarly, to our last two games, nothing more than a Liverpool victory should be expected of the players. Cardiff team isn’t Premier League quality – they didn’t buy well in the summer – so Liverpool should be camped in the visitors’ half for the full match.
This match shouldn’t be a bother to us, unless complacency comes in. Get the goals early, bring our important players off to rest before a trip down to face in-form Arsenal would be an excellent result.
Come the final whistle I expect Liverpool to gain maximum points with Cardiff and Neil Warnock wanting to get this game over and done with. A comfortable victory by four goals to nil.
With our front three continuing their goal scoring form from the Champions League. Leaving us fans to enjoy what will be an entertaining match on Monday whilst watching rivals drop points.
Liverpool 4 (Shaqiri, Salahx2, Sturridge) – Cardiff City 0