Mutch 9' 88'
Suarez 16' 60' 90+6'
Skrtel 41' 54'
You can see the progression over the last few months ago. In January, a very similar match ended 2-2 against Aston Villa. In February, it ends 3-2 at Fulham, thanks to a fortuitous late penalty. In March, it ends with an absolutely mad 6-3 at Cardiff.
Liverpool's resiliency, Suarez and Sturridge's potency, and a helpful dose of Skrtel on set plays. In spite of recurring midfield messes and defensive mistakes.
Like against Villa and Fulham (and at Stoke, at West Brom, and v Swansea), Liverpool started off terribly, pushed back by errant passing and a wide open midfield. Liverpool's most impressive performances – against Arsenal and Everton, in the last two away matches – have seen a compact, disciplined midfield, keeping the shape before launching its attacks, leaving enough players behind to prevent opposition attacks but also pressing the ball both in the attacking third and the middle of the pitch.
But today, like those aforementioned five matches, Liverpool's midfielders left insanely large gaps. Unlike against Fulham, this was more due to Liverpool dropping too deep, seemingly afraid of Cardiff after allowing three chances in the first five minutes. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But when you drop deep, you have to keep the shape; you can't just charge around the defensive third chasing the ball and hoping for the best.
The first goal started with a quick Cardiff transition, but Allen should have seen it off when dispossessing Fabio. However, the midfielder missed Flanagan with his pass, instead finding Frazier Campbell. The striker strolled to the flank and fed Mutch, who'd ambled away from an out-of-position Gerrard and with the captain unable to close down, smashing a perfectly placed shot from the top of the box that Mignolet had no chance at.
The second came with Mutch passing through Liverpool's static midfield, Campbell having pulled into space behind an unaware Gerrard, with both Agger and Skrtel marking Bellamy and Flanagan caught upfield marking Fabio. Either press the ball in midfield or drop deep enough to mark the striker. You have to do one of those two things. But no. And maybe both center-backs don't try to mark the same player. So Campbell ran at a recovering Agger, cut around him, and again placed a shot into the far corner. Both goals were well-taken, but both came far too easily.
Sandwiched between Cardiff's goals was Suarez's first, set up by Henderson's excellent ball to an overlapping Johnson, and Johnson's low centered cross for a Suarez tap-in. A first equalizer should have been enough, but how would Liverpool respond to needing a second?
Fairly well, thank you. "Even when we're not good, we're still going to score more than you." And so they did. Two set play goals; a pass-pass-pass-pass oops-we've-broken-your-defense fourth, and then two blitzkrieg counters. And a regrettable, but ultimately meaningless, consolation conceded.
Liverpool's second, Skrtel's first, wasn't wholly a set play goal, but it might as well go down as one. Cardiff cleared Coutinho's corner, but cleared it straight to the Brazilian, who immediately crossed back into the box. Skrtel's run was immaculate, intuitively breaking between three defenders to reach the ball first, just outside the six-yard box.
The second was a more orthodox set play goal, albeit with a fair amount of controversy, with both Mutch and Theophile-Caterine off the pitch, having been treated for injuries in the build-up. And Liverpool took advantage, with Skrtel beating his marker to Coutinho's corner and directing the header well past Marshall.
That was that. Liverpool wouldn't give Cardiff a chance to get a third until the result was well out of sight. Six minutes after taking the lead, Liverpool had a fourth: patient build-up, Henderson and Johnson again combining just before the goal, Johnson's low cross deflected but fortunately falling to Sturridge, whose first-touch back-heel into space was indescribably brilliant, somehow telepathically knowing that Suarez would find it. Sometimes, there are just no words to do those two justice.
And they reversed roles 15 minutes later, as Suarez's tasmanian devil work rate forced Caulker into misplaying Johnson's ball over the top, charging into the box before centering between two defenders to meet Sturridge in stride, yet another Liverpool goal scored from six yards out.
The last 15 minutes seemed a formality, with Liverpool threatening on a couple of quick attacks but somehow contriving to foul them up, until Cardiff found a consolation. The build-up should embarrass Liverpool's defense: Theophile-Caterine allowed to cross to an open Jones, who headed across to an open Mutch. But Liverpool responded just before full-time, similar to their last goal, with Suarez terrorizing Cala into misplaying a hopeful long ball, then tearing at Marshall, villainously teasing him into committing (and ignoring Sterling) before poking home.
These games aren't doing my heart any good. Liverpool may be mistake-prone in midfield and defense, but Liverpool remain very good in attack, and fairly decent on set plays as well. It's the 17th time (in 30 matches) where Liverpool have scored at least three, the 10th time they've scored at least four, and the 5th time they've scored at least five. That's unfathomable.
More importantly, Liverpool believe. Liverpool know they're capable of something truly special. And even when Liverpool disappoint, when Liverpool start badly, when Liverpool suffer setbacks, Liverpool somehow respond.