Liverpool seem to be forgetting everything but the way ahead. They are striding purposefully and sometimes with some pain but game after game exists in a sort of swaying, ethereal world. It has reached the stage where sensation even in struggle eliminates the presence of chafing because they keep going and are not afraid to operate and push forward when the margins are tight.
Liverpool had to wait for the key moment to arrive here but this is now a team used to being patient, one which does not always have its own way from the beginning and has learned to trust itself by earning lots of victories the hard way.
In truth, Trent Alexander-Arnold did look quite tired as he prepared to take the corner kick which led to the establishment of a lead and it was difficult to tell whether he meant to find Georginio Wijnaldum 15 yards from goal but the Dutch midfielder’s finish on the half-volley was wonderfully emphatic, almost bursting the net.
His celebrations reflected Liverpool’s sense of liberation, with all of his outfield teammates chasing him behind the goal and into the sun where the travelling supporters had previously waited in a furnace of hope. The feeling now was an explosion of relief.
This was a belligerent team performance which delivered a result earned by the standard of the collective rather than any individual. Mohamed Salah did not score but the level of his threat was as red as it has been in any of the fixtures since his spring break last month. Behind him, Jordan Henderson was also a brooding presence – his energy lifting the players around him when the mood became tense.
Cardiff fought like bears to frustrate their title chasing opponents and could have equalised when Joe Bennett’s corner landed right on Sean Morrison’s head. Only he will be able to explain why he made a connection with the top of his back. Soon, Morrison would grapple with Salah, grabbing him once, twice and a third time. Though most of the stadium was furious with referee Martin Atkinson for awarding a penalty, his decision was absolutely correct and James Milner blasted home the subsequent kick.
It has been claimed that Liverpool's fixture at Newcastle is a dangerous one because of what comes before and after: Barcelona at the Nou Camp and then Barcelona at Anfield and whether fatigue will play a part in how this season is remembered. If it was present here after a midweek victory in Porto, it disobeyed its intuitions. From afar, Liverpool certainly look fitter and physically stronger than they did this time a year ago. With as many as six games to go, Jurgen Klopp has the options to ensure there remains a voluptuous quality to his team's play.
Before the two second half goals, Cardiff were not excessively conservative but they had been incredibly disciplined and attentive, particularly their defenders who may have afforded Liverpool chances but were always at least close-by, forcing decisions.
That could certainly be said of the opportunity Sadio Mane flashed over the bar on the half hour mark when Morrison did enough to pressurise him, but not a few minutes earlier when Roberto Firmino blazed his shot despite being clear of the last man. It was an incredible miss from the Brazilian who is not the sort of forward you associate with unnecessary haste.
Salah was buzzing from the start – as was Henderson, whose pass to the Egyptian was fizzed and not the easiest to deal with but he spun past Bruno Ecuele Manga sharply and should have scored from there, but Neil Etheridge pounced to stop him.
The best save in the first half, in fact, came at the other end where Alisson Becker palmed over Oumar Niasse’s flick following a corner and a scuffed volley by Victor Camarasa. The ball was spinning everywhere but Alisson instinctively remained calm and still, doing enough to save Liverpool having had little else to do other than watch those teammates in front of him dominate possession.
Cardiff’s supporters greeted the half time whistle with an enormous roar. They were clinging on to anything and everything. When Niasse won his team an early goal-kick by clearing into Alexander-Arnold’s shins, the Everton loanee was commended for his sensibility. Whenever a Liverpool pass did not quite hit the target, it was received as an achievement of Cardiff’s. Niasse chased about up front but for long periods he could have been treated for loneliness.
Neil Warnock has done a fabulous job at Cardiff, taking a group of players that might otherwise be positioned in the lower half of the Championship and turning them into a troop which might just survive in the Premier League for one season at least. A measure of what he has to work with and what he is up against was reflected by the presence of Lee Peltier in his team, the Toxteth-born right back who has taken longer than a decade and six permanent moves to make it back to the top flight which he left behind in 2007 having made just four cup appearances for Liverpool.
Warnock was able to disturb Liverpool but not to the point where his plan had a defining outcome. Liverpool’s red tank has the capacity to flatten all in its way and ultimately here, it rolled on. Now, over to Manchester City. Again.
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