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Cardiff City 3-6 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned

Vince SiuFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2014

Cardiff City 3-6 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned

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    Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

    A hat-trick from Luis Suarez, a brace from Martin Skrtel and an easy finish from Daniel Sturridge gave Liverpool six goals at Cardiff City, who hit three themselves in a nine-goal thriller in the Premier League on Saturday.

    Jordon Mutch gave the hosts a ninth-minute lead before Suarez equalized. Fraizer Campbell took Cardiff ahead again, but Skrtel equalized on the stroke of half-time before heading the Reds in front with his sixth goal of the season.

    A dominant second-half display from Brendan Rodgers’ charges saw Suarez double his tally before setting up Sturridge. A second from Mutch started a mini-Cardiff resurgence before Suarez’s cool finish in the last minute of injury time sealed an impressive treble and three more points on the board for title-chasing Liverpool.

    Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s 6-3 win at Cardiff. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Liverpool’s Defence a Shambles Again

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Having secured two clean sheets on the bounce against Southampton and Manchester United to improve a defensive record that has been patchy at best this season, Liverpool’s back line returned to form as it shipped three against Cardiff City on Saturday.

    This was not vintage Liverpool defending. Credit must be given to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team for putting early pressure on the visitors, but the space and time that the Reds afforded their hosts were a far cry from the relentless pressing that has become a hallmark in recent months.

    We’ll discuss Skrtel’s performance in a separate slide, but Daniel Agger’s defensive performance was as shocking as it was ominous. The late appearance of Mamadou Sakho off the bench will have been a sign that Sakho might find himself back in favor after returning from injury.

    After a series of wholehearted and defensively solid performances from Jon Flanagan, this was one of his most frustrating in many a month. Passed easily on the left flank all too often, Flanagan was a picture of nervousness on the pitch and was duly substituted in the 73rd minute for Aly Cissokho.

    Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson’s displays in the middle of the pitch were less effective than in recent weeks as well, as they failed to track back and close in on the gaps afforded to the Cardiff attackers in the first half.

Irresistible Liverpool

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    Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

    But for all their defensive unsteadiness, Liverpool’s attack has been more than able to compensate for their goals conceded, and Saturday was yet another exhibition of just how potent this Reds forward line can be.

    We’ve seen all season the electric partnership that has developed between Suarez and Sturridge, but Philippe Coutinho bounced back from a quiet few weeks with two assists—both for Skrtel—and a useful shift at the tip of Rodgers’ midfield diamond.

    On the opposite flank to Flanagan, Glen Johnson enjoyed one of his best games in a long while. It was his forward run that created Suarez’s first goal, and his energetic forays down the right flank suggested that he might well be recapturing his finest form.

    With Skrtel’s second goal off Coutinho’s corner, Liverpool added another goal to their impressive tally of 18 from set pieces this season—the highest in the Premier League—while Suarez’s third goal was a classic counterattack that has served the Reds so well this season.

The Curious Case of Martin Skrtel

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    After another brace on Saturday—his first since his two-goal haul in Liverpool’s 5-1 mauling of Arsenal at Anfield in February—Skrtel has increased his tally to six for the season, making him the Reds’ fourth top scorer behind Suarez, Sturridge and Steven Gerrard.

    It’s been an eye-catching campaign for Skrtel, who has improved his contributions on the attacking end and has captured many of the headlines, not least by earning his manager’s public praise on a few occasions.

    Yet defensively, Skrtel remains an enigma. His defensive positioning for Cardiff’s goals was questionable at best (though his defensive partner, Daniel Agger, will have to take more than a fair share of the blame as well).

    Skrtel’s two own goals this season still raises concerns about his all-round defensive game, which has seen bursts of good form punctuated by some costly mistakes.

    As long as he keeps going forward to good effect, Skrtel will remain one of the league’s most curious puzzles: surprisingly prolific for a defender, but worryingly susceptible to gifting goals as well.

Luis Suarez Back in Form at Just the Right Time

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    Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

    There was a time in 2014 when Suarez dropped off the boil, went on a barren run and suffered from a goal drought.

    While his overall contributions to the Liverpool attack may only have been apparent to those who kept an eye on the Reds’ performances over the period, he has well and truly returned to form—and at just the right time.

    As Liverpool keep up the pressure on league leaders Chelsea, Suarez’s spectacular return to the goals will be warmly welcomed by his teammates, manager and fans.

    Suarez’s hat-trick on Saturday showed his predatory instincts—he’s now scored 28 goals this Premier League season, on course to beat the all-time record of 31—while his awareness and pinpoint pass to set Sturridge up for Liverpool’s fourth was equally impressive.

    Both members of Liverpool’s “SAS” strike partnership was on target on Saturday, which will be a good boost ahead of their Wednesday clash against Sunderland.

Cardiff City’s Endeavor Is to No Avail

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    Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

    As we highlighted in the first slide, Liverpool’s victory wasn’t a straightforward one—at least not for the first 45 minutes.

    Cardiff City approached the match without fear and quickly imposed themselves after kickoff. Mutch’s first goal was a deserved reward for their superiority over the first 10 minutes that saw Cardiff take advantage of some slack Liverpool marking.

    Campbell’s goal was also an opportunistic finish that exploited some hesitant marking from Agger as the Bluebirds posed enough of a threat to Liverpool more than Southampton and Manchester United were ever able to muster.

    That they scored three goals against a Liverpool side that has been so rampant and dominant in recent weeks is commendable, but if Solskjaer is to even hope of rescuing his team from relegation, he will need to coax a similar level of performance over the course of 90 minutes, instead of only just a half.

In the End, Liverpool March Right on

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    As we enter the business end of the season, every match provides a different challenge to Liverpool: Southampton had been their traditional bogey team, Old Trafford had been a tough away ground, and Cardiff were the resilient relegation-threatened side who had sprung shock results on the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United.

    Rodgers’ side passed those tests with flying colors, and while for 45 minutes Cardiff looked like they could put a dent in their confidence, Liverpool emerged and reverted back to their dominance in the second half.

    In the end, the Reds hit Cardiff for six, making it their 17th league game this season in which they have scored three or more goals.

    With Arsenal’s shocking 6-0 capitulation to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier on Saturday, Liverpool have held onto second spot for at least another few days as they continue their chase for a long-awaited Premier League title.

    There's only eight games left now to chase their dream.

     

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