Liverpool return to top spot with victory at Cardiff
Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League as Jurgen Klopp’s second-half specialists struck again to clinch a 2-0 win at Cardiff.
A rare Georginio Wijnaldum strike in the 57th minute eased Liverpool nerves before substitute James Milner slotted home a penalty nine minutes from time.
The victory – the sixth successive time Liverpool have won a Premier League game by scoring the winner in the second half – saw them reclaim top spot from Manchester City after the champions had beaten Tottenham on Saturday.
Liverpool now hold a two-point advantage, but the lead could change hands again on Wednesday when City play their game in hand against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
It was Liverpool’s ninth consecutive win in all competitions and gave them a new Premier League points tally, beating the 86 that Rafael Benitez’s side managed in the 2008-09 season.
Cardiff had suffered a blow on Saturday when relegation rivals Brighton picked up a point from a goalless draw at Wolves
This result leaves them three points from safety and Brighton do have a game in hand.
But Brighton have daunting fixtures against Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City and the committed nature of this performance will give Cardiff hope they can possibly win two of their final three games – they might have to in order to survive.
Liverpool predictably set up camp in the Cardiff half early on and Bluebirds boss Neil Warnock must have feared the “battering” he had spoken about before the game.
Neil Etheridge was forced to punch clear Naby Keita’s pass as Mohamed Salah sensed an opportunity, but Cardiff were compact and dogged and saw out the first 20 minutes with little concern.
Cardiff also carried a threat on the break as Nathaniel Mendez-Laing provided Trent Alexander-Arnold with one of the most difficult 45-minute periods of his season.
Mendez-Laing had shown Alexander-Arnold one clean pair of heels before he burst to the byline.
His cross found Junior Hoilett at the far post but the winger hesitated and Andy Robertson smothered the ball to safety.
The first big chance arrived after 22 minutes when Sadio Mane slipped in Roberto Firmino, but the Brazilian cleared the crossbar with only Etheridge to beat.
Etheridge distinguished himself when he stuck out a foot to stop Salah and Liverpool were indebted to their own goalkeeper just before half-time.
Liverpool only partially cleared a corner and Victor Camarasa struck his effort into the ground.
Oumar Niasse, on loan from Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals Everton, turned the ball goalwards but Alisson Becker reacted smartly to turn over.
Cardiff had only operated at 20 per cent possession in the first half, but they also created the first chance of the second period.
Mendez-Laing’s deep cross was just too high for Sean Morrison and the Cardiff captain directed his header onto the roof of the net.
But Liverpool pressure began to grow and Mane and Alexander-Arnold were both just off-target before the breakthrough came.
Alexander-Arnold had given his previous corners height and sent them deep, but this time he delivered it to the near post where Wijnaldum met it with the most perfect connection to give Etheridge no chance.
Jordan Henderson should have doubled the lead, but Liverpool escaped when Morrison missed from a few yards out after Alisson had failed to collect a corner.
Liverpool were disrupted further by losing Fabinho, who had replaced Keita, almost instantly following a clash of heads and Milner was sent on to prove what was a decisive role.
The Reds got the breathing space they craved when Morrison had his hands all over Salah and the Egyptian fell to the ground.
Salah seemed as if he wanted to take the kick and become the third Liverpool player to score 20 in consecutive Premier League seasons, emulating Robbie Fowler and Luis Suarez.
But Milner took the ball and coolly dispatched the kick to take Liverpool top again.