Premier League | Cardiff City Stadium | Sat 22 Mar | 3pm
Goals, goals everywhere – but not a prayer for the hosts.
It’s a cruel world, this top-flight lark. A week after Cardiff bought themselves some time with a vital win over Fulham, they were hit with a late sucker punch at Everton thanks to Seamus Coleman’s scruffy winner at Goodison Park.
- Everton 2-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Spurs 1-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-4 Hull (Prem)
- Cardiff 1-2 Wigan (FAC)
- Man Utd 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- So'ton 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 4-3 Swansea (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (FAC)
- Fulham 2-3 Liverpool (Prem)
It didn’t help that Fulham pulled their finger out with a win over Newcastle at Craven Cottage, nor that West Brom saw off Swansea and both Sunderland and Crystal Palace picked up points. It’s getting cosy at the bottom, but the fact Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men can still beat the drop easily says a lot about the Premier League’s cannon fodder this season.
The Bluebirds are three points adrift in the bottom three with a shoddy goal difference, but with a relatively kind run-in (they play only Chelsea in the top seven after this), survival is still realistic. Welsh rivals Swansea are only four points ahead in 14th, after all. Still, anything other than a good hiding here will be surprising. They’ve been pitiful in first halves this season, scoring just six goals and leading twice in 30 games, thus giving themselves an uphill struggle after half-time.
That’s the polar opposite of Liverpool, of course, who broke the Premier League record for first-half goals a month ago. Their 49 net-ripplers have helped the Reds lead in 20 of 29 games at the break, and launched them to the top of the league’s scoring charts with ease. Luis Suarez (25) and Daniel Sturridge (18) are seven goals short of a half-century league partnership for the season.
Brendan Rodgers’ men are being taken seriously – how can they not? Last weekend’s dream win at Old Trafford took them to within four points of Chelsea with a game in hand (at home to Sunderland next Wednesday), and sent Liverpool dads scurrying for ladders to dust off those metaphorical perches in the loft. Life is good at Anfield. The Reds are already enjoying a five-game winning streak and are unbeaten in 10, but they know as well as anyone that’s simply what it takes to be title contenders. With Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea still to come, this one needs to be as routine as expected.
Ben Turner and Andrew Taylor could be fit for Cardiff after knocks, but fellow defender Mark Hudson is still crocked with a hamstring problem. Liverpool are only without Jose Enrique and his knacked knee, meanwhile – another positive in an ever-growing list for Rodgers.
Player to watch: Gary Medel (Cardiff)
The Chilean is returning to fitness at a vital time. If Cardiff go down it’s almost certain Medel will leave, but until then the Bluebirds can rest assured the 26-year-old will do his utmost to make sure that doesn’t happen. He admitted Cardiff’s counter-attacking style was the most difficult change from life in La Liga, where he was accustomed to retaining the ball and enjoying possession far more frequently. It’s reflected in his passing stats this season – his 88% accuracy is not to be sniffed at – and it’s that kind of ball work that Cardiff need.
Against Everton, Medel was only on the pitch for 57 minutes but was Cardiff’s top passer (with just 31) in a game where they saw only 32% of the ball. His 84% accuracy wasn’t great, but nor was it dreadful with so few attacking outlets to give the ball to. He also tackled well (or at least put up some resistance) in key areas.
Solskjaer’s men know Liverpool don’t need any favours, and Medel’s calming presence could be key. Far from his reputation as a tearaway hot head, the midfield marshal has only been booked 4 times this season, rarely gives away fouls, and weighs in with reasonable averages of 2.4 tackles and 2 interceptions per game.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- L'pool 3-1 Cardiff (Prem, Dec 13)
- L'pool p2-2 Cardiff (LC, Feb 12)
- L'pool 2-1 Cardiff (LC, Oct 07)
- L'pool 0-4 Cardiff (Div 2, Dec 59)
- Cardiff 3-2 L'pool (Div 2, Aug 59)
Cardiff boss Solskjaer is still a chirpy chappy despite his difficult start to life in South Wales – and insists whatever happens, he’ll stick with the Bluebirds next season. “We each want to keep our place in the Premier League, but no matter what happens I will be here for the future,” said the Norweigan. “I can promise to be 100% loyal.
"Everybody knows that continuity is the key factor to success. I sensed a great buzz for Wales from the start. The people are fantastic.”
Speaking of loyalty, it’s testament to Rodgers’ management of Liverpool this season that skipper Steven Gerrard wants the former Swansea gaffer pinned to a new contract. “I just hope there is a lot of movement in Boston (John W Henry's home city) now, because they have got to get him signed up as soon as possible,” insisted the England man. “I think he is perfect for this club.” Praise indeed.
Facts and figures
- Since 2010/11 Liverpool have lost 7 of their 10 trips to promoted teams while 8 have had at least 3 goals.
- 13 of Liverpool’s last 16 away matches have had at least 3 goals, with 10 having 4 or more.
- Liverpool have scored before half-time in an incredible 15 of their last 16 away matches.
- 8 of Cardiff’s last 12 home matches have had at least 3 goals.
Liverpool have scored 30 goals in their last nine games. Cardiff have netted 23 all season. Only the brave (or a moron) would bank on anything other than a convincing Reds win. 3-0.