Suarez 25' 45'
Another three points for Liverpool, a couple more records for Luis Suarez. It certainly wasn't all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, especially in the second half, but it was enough. And over the festive period, considering Liverpool's schedule over the festive period, enough is enough.
It took Liverpool a few minutes to get going, with Cardiff both pressing effectively and getting numbers behind the ball. And the away side were the first to threaten the opposition's goal, Noone dangerous on the counter, one-on-one with Sakho, but Mignolet denied his fierce left-footed shot. Thankfully, Suarez soon posted his "GENIUS AT WORK" sign atop Cardiff's penalty box, scoring twice and setting up one in a 20-minute span.
From the 18th minute until halftime, responding to Cardiff's counter-attacking chance, Liverpool were unbelievable. Three goals doesn't do that spell justice; Liverpool really were as good as they were against Tottenham over that period. And, once again, Suarez and Henderson were at the epicenter, linking up for all three goals. The first saw delightful interplay between Suarez, Henderson, and Allen: the two midfielders both getting forward, Allen's pass to Henderson at the top of Cardiff's penalty area, Henderson's delightful cross to Suarez posted just inside the box, volleyed into the ground and unsaveable.
Coutinho hit the foot of the post following Suarez's short corner, Skrtel skied a free header from a free kick, Flanagan was denied a goal in a second successive match by a goal-line clearance, two Liverpool throughballs in 30 seconds put Sterling and Johnson one-on-one with the keeper, but the former saw his shot saved, the latter's heavy touch allowed Marshall to come out and smother.
And with all those chances squandered and halftime imminent, you couldn't help but wonder how Liverpool would be punished after the interval. Ha. Five minutes left. Still time for two more goals. The first was a picture book blitzkrieg break: Henderson's toe poked long ball releasing Suarez, unselfishly squared for an apparently-just-onside-but-maybe-a-step-offside Sterling. Three minutes later, Suarez and Flanagan combined to charge down the left, Henderson's pressing ensured Liverpool kept possession despite Flanagan's off-target pass, and the midfielder's oh-lord-that's-clever back heel gave Suarez the bit of space to allow a science-defying curler from 20 yards. Two Henderson back heels leading to Liverpool goals in two consecutive games. That's so delicious it has to be fattening.
Also, Luis Suarez. 12 games, 19 goals, 5 assists. Wow. Just wow.
PL RECORD: Luis SUAREZ becomes the first player to score at least TWO goals in FOUR PL matches in a row. LIV 3-0 CAR (HT) #lfc— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) December 21, 2013
Luis Suarez becomes the first player to score 10 Premier League goals in a calendar month - and he's still got 2 more games after this one!— Eurosport.com EN (@EurosportCom_EN) December 21, 2013
I have no words that'll suffice. None.
So, three-nil, game over. Much like the match at Palace, Liverpool seemed satisfied when hitting halftime up three. Which is somewhat understandable with City and Chelsea on the horizon, but still somewhat annoying, especially when Liverpool concede on a set play and Skrtel could have been called for two penalties.
Today's set play concession might have been a new low. To be fair, Liverpool had just made its first substitution, replacing Flanagan with Kelly and Johnson going to left-back, so defensive assignments may have gotten mucked up. But that's little excuse for absolutely no one marking Jordan Mutch, wide open at the back post, heading Whittingham's free kick past a helpless Mignolet. And Cardiff kept Liverpool on the back foot for the next 15 minutes, kept winning and threatening from free kicks and corners.
Mackay's halftime talk clearly raised Cardiff's game, Mackay's substitutions – Campbell and Kim for Odemwingie and Medel – made Cardiff more threatening. That he'll inevitably be fired before Cardiff's next match boggles the mind. But Liverpool did enough to prevent a second which would really get nerves jangling. And Liverpool finally got back on track by the 75th minute, denied a fourth when Suarez hit the post, fired wide, and had an effort saved by Marshall. No third hat-trick of the season for you. You'll have to settle for the 19 goals and five assists in 12 games, registering a goal or assist once every 45 minutes in the league this season. Which is more goals than 11 Premiership sides have scored in total.
As against Tottenham, Liverpool's midfield continued to impress with these players in this shape. And Henderson continued to be the standout, responsible for two assists in an advanced role, even though he's struggled in an advanced role against deep defenses in the past. Allen is a perfect foil, excellent at keeping possession and moving intelligently, smart with both passing and positioning. Sterling and Flanagan also stood out – surprise, surprise, young players get better and better with more, consistent match time. Skrtel frightened at times, Johnson remains underwhelming (to say the absolute least), Coutinho probably needs to stop shooting from distance, and Lucas has had better games, but Liverpool were still more than deserving of the win.
And Suarez remains first among equals. When he's in this form, few sides will stop Liverpool from running riot. Enjoy your new contract, Luis. It's worth every last cent.