Cardiff 3 Liverpool 6 match report: Luis Suarez hits treble as Reds overwhelm poor Cardiff
Liverpool maintain title charge but question marks remain over their porous back-line
A game in which Liverpool's attacking play underlined why they could be champions, and their defending showed why they probably will not, turned on one of those moments when a referee really ought to use common sense. Neil Swarbrick's decision-making was not as grievous as dismissing the wrong man, but it was more telling than Andre Marriner's faux-pas at Stamford Bridge.
Nine minutes into the second period, with the game evenly poised at two-all, a Liverpool free-kick ended with a corner being awarded and a pair of Cardiff players on the deck. Kevin Theophile-Catherine required treatment, Jordan Mutch just a reviving drink of water, but Swarbrick insisted both had to leave the field. Cardiff protested, to no avail, this would leave them two men short at the corner. Sure enough, when the ball came over, Skrtel's header bounced inside a far post which had necessarily been left unguarded.
Referees allow goalkeepers back on in these situations. Swarbrick should have shown some common sense and let Mutch stay on the pitch.
Some managers would have seized on this and blamed the official for their defeat, Ole Gunnar-Solskjaer, however, merely said 'the rule should be looked at'. “How can you defend a corner kick with nine men,” said the Cardiff manager. “I said to the fourth official, 'they will score here'.” It could be argued that if Steven Caulker had marked Skrtel properly it would not have mattered, but as Solskjaer pointed out, “two of my biggest men were out of that corner kick. It was the vital goal.”
Such was the quality of Liverpool's attacking play they may well have won anyway, but so porous is their defence they may not have. “It certainly was an important goal,” said Rodgers, adding of Solskjaer “he'll probably have a word with his medical staff.” Rodgers did not elaborate, but his own medics will probably be reminded not to treat two players at the same time unless safeguarding their health requires it.
Rodgers was more interested in praising his team's resilence, for they trailed twice in the first period, and an offensive power underlined by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge taking their joint tally to 47 league goals with Suarez notching a third hat-trick this season. They have now scored 40 goals in 16 away games and won six straight matches scoring 24 in the process.
That led the travelling support to spend much of the second half singing about winning the league. “The fans can believe, when a team scores six away from home they have every right to, but the immediate future is all I can focus on.”
Liverpool remain four points behind Chelsea, but with a game in hand. With the bottom five all losing Cardiff's position is also unchanged, but the other four all played away from home. “Some had more winnable games, so we're not worse off,” said Solskjaer.
The Norwegian had been forced into making an alteration from the team beaten at the last gasp at Everton a week prior. Liverpool fan Craig Noone failed a fitness test so another man with an Anfield connection came into the team: Craig Bellamy. Liverpool's sole change was tactical. Philippe Coutinho replaced Raheem Sterling at the head of the midfield diamond. Rodgers presumably felt Coutinho's guile would be more useful than Sterling's speed against a defence likely to sit deeper than Manchester United's had at Old Trafford last weekend.
Liverpool certainly monopolised much of the possession in the opening half but two loose passes in the opening minutes quickly put them at a disadvantage. First Sturridge conceded cheap possession and Steven Gerrard was drawn into a foul on Fraizer Campbell that brought him an inconvenient second-minute caution. Then Joe Allen, having won possession tracking back, laid the ball off towards Jon Flanagan with a lack of care. The lively Campbell pinched the ball and cut it back to Jordan Mutch who had drifted off Gerrard into dangerous territory on the edge of the box. As the England captain sought to close him down Mutch, who has impressed this season, drove a left-footed shot inside Simon Mignolet's far post to set the stadium alight.
Cardiff retreated, but 81 minutes is a long time to sit on a lead. It lasted eight minutes. The problem with playing a back five is that the full-backs are often caught in no-man's land. Thus was Declan John exposed as Henderson, in possession on the edge of the box, but under no pressure, rolled a pass inside John for Glen Johnson to run onto. He cut the ball back for Suarez to turn in.
Liverpool's matches are so watchable in part because a goal always looks likely at either end. With the crowd in good voice having been roused by a pre-arranged chant of 'We're Cardiff City, we're always in blue” after 19 minutes and 27 seconds (to commemorate the 1927 FA Cup win) the home side went forward again. Campbell headed over from a Bellamy cross, then Mutch released Campbell inside Flanagan, who was drawn wide by Fabio da Silva's positioning. The striker turned Daniel Agger far too easily before scoring his ninth of the season. This time the lead lasted 17 minutes before being erased when Skrtel beat Juan Cala to Coutinho's right-wing cross.
Then came Skrtel's game-changing second. Cardiff were still simmering when Suarez doubled the lead sweeping the ball in after Sturridge reacted first to a half-blocked Johnson cross with a clever back-heel. Solskjaer threw on a trio of substitutes, all acquired in his January shopping, and went to a conventional 4-4-2. Rodgers responded by bringing on Sterling as Liverpool went into counter-attacking mode. That brought reward when Caulker mis-judged Johnson's long pass and Suarez set up Sturridge for his 19th of the campaign. Mutch reduced the arrears with a free header after Kenwyne Jones nodded down Theophile-Catherine's cross, and aroused wildlly ambitious hope of a late rally. These were doused when Suarez brushed aside Cala to clinch his hat-trick and draw level with Robbie Fowler's Premier League club record 28 goals.
Cardiff (3-4-2-1): Marshall; Caulker, Cala, Theophile-Catherine; Da Silva, Medel, Kim (Zaha, 65), John (Daehli, 65); Mutch, Bellamy (Jones, 70); Campbell.
Liverpool (4-1-2-1-2): Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan (Sissoko, 73); Gerrard; Henderson, Allen; Coutinho (Sterling, 68); Sturridge (Sakho, 90), Suarez.
Referee: N Swarbrick
Man of the match: Suarez (Liverpool)
Match rating: 8
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