By Matthew Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool went back to the summit of the Premier League after beating Cardiff City 2-0 at the Cardiff City Stadium. Gini Wijnaldum got the opening goal of the game before James Milner smashed in a penalty to secure the points.
Jurgen Klopp made three changes from the side that ran out 4-1 winners in Portugal midweek. Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita returned to the midfield, with Roberto Firmino reclaiming his spot as the spearhead of the deadly trident.
The opening 15 minutes were a rather cagey affair, as the home side looked to suffocate Liverpool by defending in numbers and limiting the space. Neil Warnock’s gameplan was clear to see, defend as a pack and break away on the counter – and it almost worked out, with Cardiff finding particular joy down Liverpool’s right flank.
It took Liverpool until the 20th minute to put real pressure on the hosts, keeping the ball well, and playing around Cardiff’s defensive shape on the edge of their own area. The phase of possession saw the Reds almost open the scoring as Firmino was set through on goal.
Link up play between the famed front three saw Sadio Mane send the Brazilian through on goal, for what seemed to be a guaranteed opener. Firmino, who had Mohamed Salah in support, decided to shoot first time only to see the ball sail over the bar to the delight of those in attendance.
As the half continued, the Reds found some sort of rhythm and began to find a way to carve a path through goal. By the 40th minute, all of Liverpool’s front three had chances to score but to no avail.
Cardiff continued to frustrate the visitors towards the close of the half but gave them a golden opportunity in the final seconds. A foul on Mane saw Trent Alexander-Arnold given the chance to break the deadlock from an edge of the area set-piece. Unfortunately for any watching Kopites, the Cardiff wall stood firm to block the youngster’s effort before Martin Atkinson blew for half-time.
As the sides came back out for the second half, Liverpool knew that a defensive wall awaited them. With this being said, after penning Cardiff back for most of the first half, the Reds had something to build on.
Throughout the opening minutes of the second half, Liverpool kept possession and pressure on their hosts, playing comfortably within the Cardiff half and waiting for their opportunity to strike – which they did before the hour mark.
A set play that came straight off the training ground saw Wijnaldum blast Klopp’s men into the lead. A low drilled corner from Alexander-Arnold found the Dutchman unmarked in the box. Wijnaldum ran late arriving at the penalty spot at the perfect moment to smash it past Neil Etheridge in the blink of an eye. After 57 minutes, Liverpool had the lead and Wijnaldum had only his second away goal for the club in the Premier League.
Although the Reds had the lead, the result was no foregone conclusion as Cardiff quickly threatened Alisson’s net. The usually reliable goalkeeper flapped at a Cardiff corner which almost resulted in the hosts finding themselves level. The ball floated over the helpless keeper and onto the head of Sean Morrison who had the goal at his mercy. Fortunately for Liverpool, the defender was unable to hit the target and the Reds were able to clear.
Upon seeing the possible danger Cardiff could offer, Klopp quickly turned to his bench to strengthen his winning position, replacing Keita with Fabinho.
Unfortunately for the Brazilian, his appearance was short lived as he was forced off with a possible head injury. A clash of heads with Kenneth Zohore saw Fabinho left groggy and having to make way for Milner.
The veteran midfield was introduced to sure up the midfield and see out the game, however, he ended up wrapping up the points for Liverpool as he smashed the ball in from the penalty spot.
Salah won the penalty after bursting into the box and being manhandled by Morrison, however with Milner on the pitch there was no doubt who the responsibility would fall to. Having only been on the pitch for a matter of moments, Mr Reliable stepped up and smashed it into the corner of Etheridge’s net, sending the keeper the wrong way in the process.
If the goal wasn’t enough to bring a smile to the faces of Liverpool fans, then the celebration certainly would have as Milner harnessed his inner Samuel Eto’o to produce an ‘elderly shuffle’ across the touchline.
With the comfort of a second goal, the Reds were able to take their foot off the gas and cruise through the final minutes of the game after fighting tooth and nail for the three points.
The win sees Klopp’s men retake top spot in the league as they now prepare for the arrival of Huddersfield at Anfield on April 26th. Off the field though, the Reds will have all eyes on the midweek Manchester Derby as the title race counts down.