Two excellent Luis Suarez goals and a cool Raheem Sterling finish were enough to send Liverpool top of the Premier League—at least until Monday when Arsenal host Chelsea—as the Reds continued their fine form at Anfield to beat Cardiff City 3-1 on Saturday.
The Bluebirds started out in a confident mood, but Suarez opened the scoring via an exquisite volley before setting up a simple tap-in for Sterling and going on to score a beautiful long-range curler for his 19th league goal of the season.
Jordon Mutch’s close-range header gave Cardiff hope and spurred the visitors on to a spirited second-half display, but Liverpool held on to finish comfortable victors and climb above Arsenal in the league table.
Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Cardiff City. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Outrageous. Out of this world. Brilliant. Genius. Mercurial. Unbelievable.
What words would you use to describe Luis Suarez at the moment?
On current form, it’s undisputable that Suarez is the finest player in the Premier League, and with his scoring record and incredible performances this season, he’s fast staking a claim to be one of the very best in the world.
The numbers are worth repeating: With his two goals on Saturday, Suarez has become the first player to score 10 Premier League goals in a calendar month (with two matches to go); he is the first player to score at least two goals in four consecutive Premier League matches; and he is tied on the highest number of Premier League goals (19) scored before Christmas.
But it’s not just the goal-scoring records that are impressive; Suarez’s improvement just within his Liverpool career, both in terms of output and attitude, is astounding, and that he has assumed the captaincy so seamlessly (albeit as a stand-in) is a testament to his renewed humility and professionalism.
When asked to think about productive partnerships at Anfield in the past decade, any Liverpool fan would instantly come to Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, or even to the budding duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
If their form manages to sustain in the coming weeks, however, we’d posit that Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson are just as impressive as an attacking unit, and that statement in itself is a massive tribute to how the latter has handled his early setbacks at Anfield and developed under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers.
Henderson’s vision enabled him to directly set up—and thus claim the assists in the process—Suarez’s brace, while it was his precise through-ball that sent Suarez on his way to creating Sterling’s goal.
Following a barnstorming performance at Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday, Henderson is currently playing his best football in a Red shirt. Who knows? Maybe Steven Gerrard’s injury will in time be looked upon as providing the perfect platform for Henderson to step up.
Raheem Sterling, on the right side of the front three, wasn’t too shabby either. Looking to beat his man every time, running in behind the Cardiff defence at every opportunity and putting in an admirable defensive shift, Sterling has recouped his encouraging form at the start of his debut Premier League season last year.
Looks like Sturridge and Gerrard will have a hard time getting back into the starting XI when they return from injury.
Relentless pressure all over the field is a Brendan Rodgers hallmark, and “death by football” is a Brendan Rodgers vision, per Daily Mail.
Those interested in seeing whether Liverpool’s breathtaking display at White Hart Lane last weekend was just a one-off or actually a sign of things to come got their confirmation in the second half of the first 45 minutes against Cardiff.
Not only did the hosts score all three of their goals in that period, but they didn’t give Cardiff a second on the ball as they piled on the pressure, penned the visitors in their own half and dominated the midfield possession via tidy passing and useful distribution.
A midfield trio of Lucas, Henderson and Joe Allen, Rodgers’ preferred midfield lineup in the injury absence of Steven Gerrard, has actually allowed the team to interchange more dynamically and exert ever more pressure on their opponents, which has taken the level of Liverpool’s play to a whole new aesthetic level.
A second-half drop in performance and energy levels was partly due to the admirable fighting spirit of Cardiff but also perhaps adopted with clashes away to Manchester City and Chelsea away.
Better to save their effort and well-drilled structures for the crunch clashes rounding off the year of 2013.
While a second-half fight-back would’ve been expected, Rodgers will look back at the goal Cardiff scored and wonder how Mutch could possibly have been isolated at the back post with no one to mark him.
And that will be the biggest point of disappointment for the Reds boss and his coaching staff at the end of the 90 minutes: It showed that Liverpool still have a long way to go to solidify their defence.
The quality of set-piece delivery from Peter Whittingham should already have been an important source of goal threat for Cardiff in the buildup to the game, but the worrying thing would be that the home side weren’t well-drilled enough to tackle set pieces.
With skilled set-piece takers like Yaya Toure, David Silva and Frank Lampard coming up within the next week, Liverpool should focus on ironing out the positional mistakes that are being committed at the back in set-piece situations.
Martin Skrtel, who was perhaps lucky to escape bookings for shirt-pulling in the box, in particular needs to work on understanding Rodgers’ philosophy and system if he is to avoid being dropped after being found vulnerable on a few occasions on Saturday.
With 36 points on board, Liverpool currently stand proud at the top of the Premier League, and if results go their way on Monday, will find themselves leading the way come Christmas, which would be a first for the club since 2008.
And with a red-hot striker like Luis Suarez on board—especially having tied him down to a new long-term contract—Reds fans are starting to think beyond just a top-four finish, but ambitiously a title challenge outright.
But just 11 points separates first place with eighth, which may well be a different situation come the end of Week 17 and represents one of the closest Premier League races in many a season.
For Liverpool, trips to the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge are likely to be tough with the prospect of dropping points across those two games, so the permutations at the top of the league could well change in an instant.
If Liverpool come out on top by the end of the December period (or anywhere reasonably near it), then we’ll reevaluate and see whether a title challenge should be considered attainable, or whether the priority for now is to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
What a week it’s been for Liverpool fans, what with the demolition of Spurs, the contract extension of Luis Suarez and the clean three points gained over Cardiff to take them to top of the league.
It’s also been a memorable week for Cardiff City fans, though in a very different mood. Saturday’s match at Anfield were punctuated by chants pleading with Malky Mackay to stay and owner Vincent Tan to leave the club.
Considering the tumultuous recent history between Tan and Mackay, per Independent, the outspoken support for the Cardiff manager, who had taken the Bluebirds to the 2012 Capital One Cup final and to promotion to the Premier League last summer, is entirely understandable.
But Brendan Rodgers, according to BBC Sport, has been speaking out at Mackay’s plight and criticizing Tan’s moves, and it seems as if the Anfield crowd has also adopted a similarly consistent and sympathetic attitude towards Cardiff’s current plight.
The support and appreciation the Cardiff chants got from the home crowd will surely have been uplifting to both the away fans, players and the managers, but it was enough to show Liverpool’s solidarity with their visitors.
After all, football has a tendency to unite.