By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to the Welsh capital to face a relegation-threatened Cardiff City in the hope of continuing their title charge ahead of what will be a season-defining month for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
The Reds return from Portugal after a 6-1 win over Porto on aggregate, winning 4-1 on Wednesday night. They will now face Barcelona in the semi-final with the prospect of doing a double now firmly planted in the minds of Liverpool fans.
Cardiff City had a game of their own during the week, facing Brighton in what was a relegation six-pointer, The Bluebirds won the game 2-0 increasing their chances of staying up with only two points now separating them from safety.
Cardiff have won two of their last five league games, losing the other three. Their victories were against two teams in the lower half of the table beating West Ham and Brighton by the same 2-0 scoreline.
They lost to Man City and Burnley, again by a score of 2-0, teams which you would expect to beat the Welsh side giving their recent form. Chelsea defeated them in controversial circumstances, coming from behind with the equalizer being scored in the final minutes before the away side eventually went on to win the game.
Focusing on their two wins against Brighton and Cardiff, against West Ham both of their goals came from wide positions. Hoilett opened the scoring from three yards out after good play down the wing from Josh Murphy and Victor Camarasa, while their second came courtesy of a defensive error, a shanked clearance from Fredericks saw Hoilett cross the ball to Murphy who goal bound header was met by Camarasa to make sure it crossed the line.
West Ham had no chances to hurt Cardiff though the post and a decent save from Etheridge saw them keep their eighth clean sheet of the season.
Their ninth came at Brighton in a must-win game for Neil Warnock – lose and they would find themselves eight points from safety with a game more than the team above which so happens to have been Brighton.
Mendez-Liang gave them the start they wanted curling in a superb goal from distance to give them the start they wanted. Their second came from a set piece, Sean Morrison giving them breathing space and heading in from Camarasa delivery to send the Bluebirds well on their way to victory.
Liverpool are in tremendous form at the moment, winning all of their recent eight games. Three of those came in Europe which saw us beat Bayern Munich to set up a quarter final tie with Porto, Liverpool overcame the Portuguese giants by a score of 6-1 on aggregate to set up a mouth watering tie against Barcelona for a place in the final of Europe’s most coveted competition.
Closer to home, five consecutive league wins have kept the dreams and hopes of a title alive, late wins against Fulham, Southampton and Tottenham have certainly helped the Reds in their victories in Europe and against Chelsea.
The 2-0 win against Chelsea was Liverpool last big test on paper and they passed with flying colours, after a nervous first half. Liverpool’s wide men set the stadium alight, Sadio Mané opened the scoring after good work from Jordan Henderson, getting his third goal involvement in as many games.
Mo Salah took the roof off the stadium a few minutes later, unleashing a rocket into the top corner from 25 yards out. Chelsea grew into the game and were the better team in the next 10 minutes. Eden Hazard missed two guilt edged opportunities to get a goal back but fluffed his lines.
Our midfield then asserted their presence and got a foot hold back into the game, Naby Keita who has been excellent the past couple of weeks asserted a calming presence by holding onto the ball for a couple of second to calm the game down. The Reds’ comfortably saw the game out which sets up a remarkable end to the season against title rivals Man City.
Neil Warnock has a couple of injury problems to deal with. Defenders Sol Bamba, Matthew Connolly and striker Callum Paterson are out through injury while Harry Arter and Aron Gunnarsson will have to pass a late fitness test to be involved.
Neil Etheridge has probably been Cardiff’s most important player this season, he has kept Cardiff in multiple games this season and if Cardiff do go down, he will surely stay in England’s top division. A future backup ‘keeper at Liverpool, anyone?
With their most influential defender Bamba out injured, Bruno Ecuele-Manga will partner Morrison in central defence with no other fit central defenders at the club. Joe Bennett and Lee Peltier will start in the full back positions, but will likely play along a back six pushing towards the centre of the pitch to become auxiliary centre backs. Josh Murphy and Junior Hoilett will start in the wing but will drop back to form that six to try and stifle Liverpool’s interchange play.
Victor Camarasa will drop back due to injuries in central midfield to sit alongside Joe Ralls in deep rolls, Bobby Reid will come in to start in the attacking midfield position to support Oumar Niasse at any opportunity Cardiff will have in an attacking position.
Dejan Lovren will need to pass a fitness test to be involved – the Croatian missed the game against Porto due to illness. Jurgen Klopp hinted in his pre-match press conference that Joe Gomez could come into the first XI, but an appearance from the bench is more likely.
A few media outlets suggested that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could make the match day squad after building up his match fitness the past few weeks, an appearance at this stage would be a timely boost both in the league and in Europe. Liverpool should remain unchanged from their last league game against Chelsea.
A back five of Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson should not have that much to deal with from Cardiff attack. Most of Liverpool’s goals are assisted by our fullbacks, as mentioned before Cardiff are quite dangerous from wide positions as well so they need to time their runs effectively and try no to isolate our centre backs.
The midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and Fabinho should start from now until the end of the season, with Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner making occasional appearances to provide rest. Liverpool’s front three all scored during the week and have been in excellent from in recent weeks, due to their form we should be beating Cardiff with ease.
Last five results
31/10/2007 – Liverpool 2-1 Cardiff City League Cup
26/02/2012 – Cardiff City 2-2 Liverpool League Cup
21/12/2013 – Liverpool 3-1 Cardiff City Premier League
22/03/2014 – Cardiff City 3-6 Liverpool Premier League
27/10/2018 – Liverpool 4-1 Cardiff City Premier League
Cardiff gave themselves room for error with a victory over Brighton on Tuesday, they now sit two points from safety and Brighton have five extremely tough games to play and the likelihood is that they will be lucky to get three points from the five. With Cardiff having favourable fixture it is now very likely that they will be competing in the Premier league next season.
If that means they will slightly ease up against Liverpool to save energy is anybody’s guess, though Neil Warnock was subtly confident of Cardiff’s chances last week.
No matter which Cardiff turn up, however, Liverpool should be winning the game every single day of the week and with ease. With the Red’s playing a day after City play Tottenham, they will know what they must do to retain or increase their lead at the summit of the league.
I’m going for a 3-0 win in Liverpool’s favour, the front three continuing their form by scoring 1 apiece for the second game running.
Final score: Cardiff City 0-3 Liverpool (Mané, Firmino, Salah)