27 October 2018

Liverpool 4-1 Cardiff City

Goals:
Salah 10’
Mané 66’ 86’
Paterson 77’
Shaqiri 84’

Normal service, resumed. For the most part.

Four goals, for the second time in four days. Four goals in consecutive matches for the first time since February. Salah with a goal and two assists, Mané with two goals, Shaqiri with his first goal for Liverpool.

But there was still a bit of 1-0 Huddersfield, 1-0 Brighton. There was still a bit of *rolls up newspaper* “NO BAD” in defense. There was marginal worry. There was too long between the first and second goals. There was an unnecessary consolation conceded at 2-0, giving us a fright for a few minutes and wrecking Liverpool’s 918-minute long Anfield league clean sheet.

But there were four goals and another win and the Premier League unbeaten streak rolls on and Liverpool are top of the table at least until Monday.

It looked like a rout from the first minute. Liverpool rolled over Cardiff like a rising tide. Come, clear, come again. A goal within ten minutes: Mané and Wijnaldum blocked after Cardiff failed to hoof away, then Salah first to the loose ball. A penalty shout – Salah wrestled by Morrison and hitting the turf – and van Dijk’s header off the post within the next five.

But then, a bit of rugged. A bit of raw. Slowly increasing frustration, memories of Huddersfield and Brighton lingering. No more shots on-target after the goal until the last second of added time. Cardiff still playing as if it was 0-0, seven men spread across the top of the penalty box, hoof, regroup. Liverpool close but no cigar to another breakthrough, a final pass cut out, a defender making the necessary tackle. Huddersfield. Brighton. 1-0, and no more, and not especially threatening more until Lallana’s 46th minute header was cleared off the line by Morrison.

And the second half started in similar fashion. The struggle is real. The frustration mounts. Cardiff have the ball in the net from a set play, but it's rightfully ruled offside in the build-up.

Then we're back, baby. Then Sadio Mané does Sadio Mané things, cutting inside from the left across the top of the box, surrounded by two Cardiff defenders and Moreno, somehow wriggling through all three to smash a left-footer past Etheridge. 66 minutes gone and it finally feels like we’re done here.

Except that we weren’t 11 minutes later. Liverpool fall asleep on a Cardiff throw-in. Moreno does a Moreno, charging out and completely missing a tackle leading to a two-on-one. Hoilett’s cross unfortunately deflects off van Dijk straight to Paterson for a tap-in. Now it's 2-1 and it's from Cardiff’s first shot of the match.

And now we’re nervous. Now we’re remembering previous matches where Liverpool’s tossed away a lead.

That was last season. Liverpool don’t remember those matches. Liverpool weren’t nervous. Now the counter comes off. Now the goals come.

A bit of calming possession then Fabinho into Salah with his back to goal, cut inside, flick through a Cardiff’s retreating line. Shaqiri dances a first defender to the floor and shifts around a second, then slides a left-footer around Etheridge. There was.a nice symmetry to Salah’s goal on Wednesday set up by Shaqiri, a similar assist this time played by the former for the latter.

3-1, less than seven minutes after conceding, with Cardiff barely leaving their own half between the goals.

Two minutes later, Fabinho tackles a Cardiff attacker, straight to Mané. To Salah. Run forward, through ball between two. Chipped keeper.

4-1.

So much for the nerves.

Only a little bit of drama. Only a bit of “is this enough?” Liverpool continue to improve its creativity while continuing in the 4-2-3-1 formation, although Lallana did not have the match that Shaqiri did on Wednesday. Fabinho and Wijnaldum were again an excellent pairing in midfield. Liverpool continue to improve its finishing, with four goals from seven shots on-target, with 19 shots in total, with four clear-cut chances coming against a side that kept ten men in their own half for almost the entirety. Salah scores again, Mané scores again.

Liverpool did so with players such as Shaqiri, Robertson, Gomez, Henderson, and Milner either left out or on the bench, with Moreno making his first league start, Lallana his second, and Lovren his third. Liverpool did so while again using its squad depth, even with a week before the next match, because that squad depth's going to be necessary later in the campaign.

Wednesday was the first step in reclaiming the form and receiving the results that we know Liverpool are capable of. This was very much a second.

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