Liverpool vs Cardiff City Preview
Liverpool head into their Premier League clash with Cardiff City on Saturday looking to extend their unbeaten run in the top flight to 10 games and move three points clear of Manchester City.
Cardiff make the trip to Anfield keen to build on last weekend’s 4-2 triumph over Fulham, a result which moved the Bluebirds out of the relegation zone.
Liverpool have been criticised for some of their performances this season, and there has been justification in that with the Merseyside giants having gone on a run which included just three goals from five outings in all competitions.
However, that period featured two fixtures with Chelsea and showdowns with Napoli and Manchester City, and Jurgen Klopp’s team have come out of that tough schedule with a hard-fought victory over Huddersfield Town and an easy triumph against Red Star Belgrade.
Only time will tell whether Liverpool will return to their best on a consistent basis, but they currently sit joint-top of the Premier League table and above Napoli and Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League group.
Klopp will be demanding an improvement in the final third of the pitch, but the German is aware that the firepower to launch a challenge on both the domestic and European scene is at his disposal and he will not be losing sleep over their recent results.
Liverpool have registered three clean sheets in a row in all competitions, but perhaps the biggest plus point from the last few outings is Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino both getting themselves back among the goals.
Salah had gone almost a month without finding the back of the net until contributing the only goal of the game at Huddersfield – which was followed up with a double in midweek – while five weeks had passed when Firmino ended his goal drought on Wednesday night.
Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge have started to show Klopp that he does not have to rely on his tried-and-trusted front three, but there will be a sense of relief that they have started to show a greater cutting edge in the final third.
Liverpool are well-fancied to come out on top this weekend, but there is perhaps extra pressure on Klopp’s side to take advantage of an easier fixture on paper with a trip to Arsenal to follow next Sunday.
Neil Warnock has indicated that he has no qualms over his Cardiff side being perceived as the favourites for relegation this season, and you would have struggled to find anyone to disagree with the veteran boss after the club’s opening eight matches.
However, the success against Fulham has perhaps indicated to everyone associated with Cardiff that an instant return to the Championship should not be regarded as a foregone conclusion, especially at this stage of the campaign.
Warnock will not be getting carried away with overcoming a team who have been shipping a lot of goals of late, but it has at least shown that one win every few weeks may just be enough to keep the Welsh outfit out of the bottom three.
Cardiff are only one of a number of teams who have struggled since the start of the season, and it already feels that less than 40 points will be good enough to retain a place in the top flight for another 12 months.
That theory will not change Cardiff’s mindset in the long run, but it will take the pressure off the team when they travel to the biggest clubs in the division and that could play into their favour.
Playing Liverpool less than 72 hours after a Champions League fixture is as ideal as it gets for Warnock and his squad and although Klopp’s men did not exactly have to over-exert themselves against Red Star, it provides them with less preparation time for Cardiff.
The same scenario applied when Warnock took his side to play Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium – three days after the North London outfit had hosted Barcelona – and Cardiff were unfortunate not to earn at least a share of the spoils on that occasion.
Warnock will have to find a way to nullify Liverpool’s attacking threat – something which will not come easy for a defence which have conceded 19 goals in nine games – but if Warnock can turn this into a scrappy match, Liverpool may not have it all their own way.
Shaqiri will expect to keep his place in the Liverpool starting lineup having contributed two assists over the past week.
That could lead to the Switzerland international playing in a more central position behind Sadio Mane, Salah and Firmino, but James Milner is likely to return in the place of Fabinho.
Jordan Henderson is expected to remain on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, but Naby Keita could potentially be handed a spot on the substitutes’ bench.
Klopp may opt to rotate his defenders, with Dejan Lovren potentially replacing Joe Gomez due to the England defender playing 90 minutes on three occasions since October 15.
Warnock is unlikely to make many alterations to a winning side, although Junior Hoilett could come into the team having impressed away at Spurs at the start of the month.
Joe Ralls continues to serve a suspension for the red card picked up at Wembley.
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Milner, Wijnaldum, Shaqiri; Mane, Firmino, Salah
Cardiff City possible starting lineup:
Etheridge; Ecuele Manga, Morrison, Bamba, Bennett; Camarasa, Gunnarsson, Arter; Murphy, Reid, Paterson
Head To Head
Saturday’s meeting will represent just the 33rd competitive clash between the two clubs, with Cardiff claiming 18 wins in comparison to 12 victories for Liverpool.
However, each of Cardiff’s wins came in 1959 or earlier, with Liverpool prevailing in each of the four matches which took place between 2007 and 2014.
Liverpool netted 13 times during those contests, including six in the most recent fixture at the Cardiff City Stadium when the Bluebirds were last competing in the top flight.